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Tuesday, 19 November, 2002, 21:58 GMT
Troops disperse Venezuela protest
Protesters walk through teargas
It is the latest in a series of protests to be dispersed
Venezuelan troops have fired tear gas to avert clashes between protesters demonstrating against the military's takeover of the police force and government loyalists in Venezuela's capital city, Caracas.

The gas was fired by National Guardsmen as the two sides approached each other on Caracas University Avenue, where bottles and stones were being thrown by pro-government supporters intent on disrupting the march.

Civic leaders had to be escorted by troops through a crowd of government loyalists into the National Assembly in order to deliver their petition protesting against the assumption of police powers by the army last weekend.

It is the latest protest to be dispersed by soldiers since President Hugo Chavez ordered the military takeover of the police, saying it had failed to maintain order during a protest last week in which two people were killed.

Controversial rule

Opponents have called his actions "an internal coup" and correspondents say they are fanning the flames of anger against Mr Chavez who has been accused of using force to stay in power - particularly after an aborted coup earlier this year.

A protester in Caracas
Many protesters want President Chavez to submit to new elections
The petition delivered by the opposition delegation called for the restoration of the police department's civil autonomy.

Demonstrators said President Chavez was setting a dangerous precedent by ordering the city's police force to report directly to the government.

"The people are supporting the city of Caracas," said police corporal Marlos Mena. "The intervention is nothing but an excuse for Chavez to turn Venezuela into another Cuba."

Mr Chavez, who was voted in as president in 1998, has been resisting pressure to hold early elections as a referendum on his controversial rule.

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The BBC's George Alagiah
"Violent incidents are happening on an almost daily basis"

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18 Nov 02 | Americas
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