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Last Updated: Monday, 13 March 2006, 00:40 GMT
New Venezuela flag divides nation
By Greg Morsbach
BBC News, Caracas

A giant new Venezuelan flag flies over Fort Tiuna in Caracas

Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez has officially unveiled the country's controversial new flag.

Parliament last week approved changes to the 200-year-old design, including the addition of an eighth star to honour the province of Guayana.

A white horse on the national coat of arms that appears on the flag now faces left instead of right.

The opposition has condemned the new flag as illegitimate, saying there had been no proper consultation.

Venezuelans have two flags - one of totalitarianism, autocracy and communism... and one of democrats
Oscar Perez
opposition spokesman

Mr Chavez used the 200th anniversary of Venezuela's first flag to present the new one to the general public.

Ordinary Venezuelans caught a first glimpse of their new flag at a large military parade.

Soldiers carrying the flag goose-stepped past the podium of Mr Chavez who himself hoisted the new banner.

The eighth star was added in line with the thinking of Mr Chavez's idol, the 19th century independence leader Simon Bolivar.

Praising the new design, Mr Chavez said the white horse had now been "freed".

Rival banners

But on the other side of Caracas, around 1,000 opposition members were demonstrating against the new national symbol.

Opposition supporters with umbrellas bearing the old Venezuelan, seven-star flag
The opposition was defiantly brandishing the old flag on Sunday

They say they cannot accept the changes because they were not consulted and spokesman Oscar Perez said the opposition would go on using the old banner.

"We will continue using our flag of seven stars, the flag that we democrats recognise.

"At this moment, the Venezuelans have two flags - one of totalitarianism, autocracy and communism, that is the eight stars, and one of democrats - that is seven stars, which is the only one we recognise."

The government wants to keep the changeover costs down by allowing a five-year transition period.

Within that time frame all public buildings will have to switch to the new flag.

Stamps, coins and passports will also have to be revamped.

See President Chavez unveil the new flag

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