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Monday, 18 November, 2002, 01:07 GMT
Clashes mar Caracas police takeover
Protester affected by tear gas
Troops have been deployed around police stations
The Venezuelan army has used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a march in the capital, Caracas, by demonstrators protesting against the takeover of the city's police force on the orders of President Hugo Chavez.


The metropolitan police have fallen into anarchy

Hugo Chavez
The clash took place as protesters banging pots and pans arrived outside a police station in the Mariperez area.

Dozens of armoured military vehicles were deployed around the capital to enforce the president's order, but correspondents say that doubts remain about the loyalty of the police force.

The mayor of Caracas, an opponent of Mr Chavez, described the imposition of government control on Saturday as an internal coup.

In his regular Sunday broadcast, Mr Chavez said the takeover was constitutional and necessary because the police failed to maintain order during a previous demonstration last week in which two people were killed.

"The metropolitan police have fallen into anarchy," he said. "It's become an obligation of the national executive as this has turned into a problem of security and public order."

Condemnation

Hundreds of people gathered outside the police station, the headquarters of the motorised unit, banging pots and pans and shouting "get out, get out" and "coup plotters".

The mayor, Alfredo Pena, tried to get into the police station, but was stopped by troops.

Hugo Chavez
Chavez insists the police takeover is constitutional
"I was elected by popular vote," he said. "I have every right to visit those officers."

National opposition leaders have also condemned the takeover as unconstitutional.

"This situation is a snub to the negotiation process," said a statement by the opposition Coordinadora Democratica coalition on Saturday.

Talks, the first since Mr Chavez was briefly deposed in a coup in April, began a week ago to break the country's political deadlock.

Internal dispute

Thousands of troops loyal to the president were brought to the streets of the capital on Wednesday.

On Saturday, Interior Minister Diosdado Cabello ordered the city's police force, which numbers more than 8,000, to report directly to the government.

National guard troops took control of several police stations in the capital.

A new police director was appointed, but resigned immediately and swore allegiance to Mr Pena. Another director was hastily brought in but it is not clear whether he will have the support of the rank-and-file.

The government said the move was made to end a dispute between police officers which led a pro-Chavez sergeant to seize a key precinct in October.

Mr Chavez, who was elected in 1998, has been resisting pressure to hold a referendum on his rule.

The opposition has accused him of dictatorial behaviour and mismanaging the oil-rich nation's economy.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Adam Easton
"Venezuela's deepening political crisis has erupted into flames"

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08 Nov 02 | Americas
20 Oct 02 | Americas
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09 Jun 02 | Americas
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