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Last Updated: Friday, 5 March, 2004, 23:58 GMT
Chavez decries 'US intervention'
Hugo Chavez speaking on Friday
Chavez has frequently accused the US of trying to interfere
Embattled Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has demanded the US "get its hands off" his country.

Mr Chavez, who accused the US of being behind an abortive coup in 2002, said he had evidence that Washington was financing opposition to his rule.

At least eight people have died and dozens have been hurt in protests since Venezuela's electoral council refused to approve an opposition petition.

The European Union has condemned the "climate of violence" there.

Envoys summoned

Mr Chavez summoned foreign ambassadors to the Miraflores presidential palace on Friday, where he made his denunciation of the US government.

"In the name of truth, I have to ask the Washington government to get its hands off Venezuela," he said.

"[US President George] Bush's government is financing this mad opposition," he said.

He added that he had "quite a lot of evidence".

1992: Paratrooper Chavez jailed after coup plot fails
1998: Wins presidential election
2000: Elected for second term
2001: Mass protests over economic reforms
2002: Military coup ousts President Chavez for 48 hours
2003: General strike fails to bring down government
2004: Electoral council rejects second petition demanding vote on Chavez rule
The US government has persistently denied accusations it is trying to overthrow Mr Chavez.

Protests have erupted across the country in the last week, after the National Electoral Council said it had not been able to authenticate hundreds of thousands of signatures collected by the opposition.

At least 2.4 million signatories are required to trigger a referendum on the rule of Mr Chavez. The opposition claimed to have collected 3.2 million.

Protests go on

The demonstrations continued on Friday, though fewer people appear to be taking part.

A few hundred people protested in Caracas against the recent deaths of opposition supporters, and the government's alleged arrest of hundreds of others.

Protests on Friday
There were smaller protests in the capital on Friday
A major demonstration has been called for Saturday.

The EU on Friday urged that a peaceful solution be found to the deepening standoff.

"No effort should be spared... to enable the country to find a constitutional, democratic, peaceful and electoral solution to its crisis," the EU's Irish presidency said in a statement.

"The European Union deeply regrets the development of a climate of violence, which has led to human casualties," it said.

It called for the demonstration on Saturday to take place peacefully - a sentiment echoed by the US state department.

The Venezuelan government on Friday placed a temporary suspension on firearm permits in an attempt to prevent more deaths.

The BBC's Elliott Gotkine
"Protests against Mr Chavez began last Friday"

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