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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 January, 2004, 10:11 GMT
Venezuela army chief backs Chavez
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez (c) and former Defence Minister Jose Prieto (l) with new Defence Minster Jorge Garcia Carneiro (r)
Chavez (c) appointed Carneiro (r) to protect his presidency
The newly-appointed defence minister in Venezuela has pledged to serve President Hugo Chavez and fight any coup that threatens his leadership.

Mr Chavez is facing a referendum poll over his presidency that opposition members fear he may block.

General Jorge Garcia Carneiro has warned that disobedience and treason in the country would not be tolerated.

About 100 dissident officers were dismissed after supporting a bungled coup against Mr Chavez in April 2002.

"We will not allow disobedience... we want no more treason against the people of Venezuela," General Carneiro said as he took over as defence minister in the capital, Caracas.

'Severe response'

"I will not allow coup-plotting or terrorist military officers to attack democracy and constitutional rule ... they will face a severe and effective response," he added.

Electoral authorities in Venezuela are evaluating a pro-referendum petition containing nearly three-and-a-half million signatures against the president.

Some neighbourhoods in Caracas echoed with pot-banging protests on Monday, demanding a swift ruling for the referendum to go ahead, correspondents reported.

"Listen to the sound of the people. Don't keep delaying this process," said Manuel Cova, leader of the Venezuelan Workers Confederation.

President Chavez has denounced the referendum petition as a "mega-fraud" but has pledged to respect its outcome under the National Elections Council.

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