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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 March, 2004, 22:53 GMT
Mass anti-Chavez rally in Caracas
Marchers in Caracas
Huge crowds turned out for the peaceful march
Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have marched through Caracas in an opposition rally to demand a referendum on President Hugo Chavez's rule.

Demonstrators marched on the capital from six different directions.

Protests have erupted in the last week over the electoral council's refusal to authenticate hundreds of thousands of signatures collected by the opposition.

At least eight demonstrators have been killed in recent days - but the latest march passed off peacefully.

The BBC's Elliot Gotkine in Caracas says it was the largest such rally so far this year.

Nobody is going to rob us of our right to oust Hugo Chavez peacefully
Henry Ramos Allup
Opposition leader

Dressed in the Venezuelan national colours of yellow, blue and red, protesters blew whistles and chanted anti-Chavez slogans as they marched towards the centre of the city.

"We're prepared to take to the streets a thousand times until we're allowed the recall referendum," opposition leader Henry Ramos Allup said.

"Nobody is going to rob us of our right to oust Hugo Chavez peacefully," he added.

Thousands of extra police were deployed to the streets before the march and civilians had been banned from carrying firearms.

Accusations

At least 2.4 million signatures are required to trigger a referendum on the president. The opposition says it has collected 3.2 million.

Hugo Chavez speaking on Friday
Chavez accuses the US of fomenting unrest in Venezuela
But the electoral council ruled last week that only 1.8 million were valid.

It ordered 1 million people to confirm that they completed the petition form, because they were said to have violated procedural rules.

Another 140,000 signatures were rejected outright.

The protesters accused the council of favouring Mr Chavez.

They also accused the government of human rights abuses in breaking up previous demonstrations and in interrogating detainees.

One group of students on Saturday unfurled a banner saying the Venezuelan leader should join former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic on trial for war crimes.

Mr Chavez, for his part, says the protest movement is being manipulated by the US, and has called on Washington to "get its hands off" Venezuela.

"[US President George] Bush's government is financing this mad opposition," he told foreign ambassadors on Friday.

The US government has denied accusations that it is trying to overthrow Mr Chavez.

The European Union has called for a peaceful solution to the standoff.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Elliott Gotkine
"There was no sign of any violence though the national guard was out in force just in case"



SEE ALSO:
Analysis: Chavez's last stand?
07 Mar 04  |  Americas
Q&A: Venezuela's recall referendum
04 Mar 04  |  Americas
Chavez decries 'US intervention'
05 Mar 04  |  Americas
Country profile: Venezuela
14 Feb 04  |  Country profiles


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