Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Venezuela sees clashes as anti-Chavez TV station closed

Protesting students hold a banner saying "Chavez, you're struck out"
"Chavez, you're struck out," students chanted in Caracas

Police and protesters have clashed in several Venezuelan cities after a TV channel opposed to President Hugo Chavez was taken off air.

One student was reported killed and several officers injured in the city of Merida amid fighting between pro- and anti-Chavez groups.

RCTV International was among six cable channels shut for failing to carry Mr Chavez's speeches live as required.

Meanwhile, Vice President Ramon Carrizalez has resigned.

Mr Carrizalez, who also held the defence minister's post, said on Monday that he was stepping down, citing personal reasons.

"My resignation is not the result of any discrepancy with government decisions, and any other version about my reasons for resigning is false and malicious," he said.

Mr Carrizalez's wife, Environment Minister Yubiri Ortega, has also left her post.

Their resignations came as protesters, overwhelmingly students, took to the streets to oppose the decision to take several cable channels off air.

In the capital Caracas, police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators who were trying to march on the headquarters of the state-run telecommunications agency.

"Freedom of expression is a right that we all embrace, and it must be defended," Alejandro Perdomo, 19, told the Associated Press.

"One, two, three, Chavez you're struck out," demonstrators chanted, using sporting terminology in baseball-mad Venezuela to refer to a range of problems, including rising crime, the devaluation of the currency and electricity shortages.

In Merida, a pro-Chavez supporter was killed in clashes, officials said.

Election year

RCTV International, along with 23 other cable channels, was recently redefined by the government as a national, rather than international broadcaster.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Caracas 23 January 2010
President Chavez's government says the channels violated the law

As such, the channels are expected to carry presidential addresses and government campaign material in what is an election year in Venezuela.

At the weekend, RCTV refused to carry a government message, prompting the authorities to order cable providers to stop carrying the channel.

Diosdado Cabello, director of the telecommunications agency, said that RCTV and the other channels had violated the law.

"They don't want to comply with the law, they want to do whatever they want," he said.

Mr Cabello indicated that one channel, TV Chile, had already been in contact to discuss its possible return, and officials say the suspension of the other channels could be reversed if they stop violating the law and rethink their programming.

Opposition groups accuse Mr Chavez of trying to control the media and prevent coverage of political discontent.

RCTV moved to cable in 2007 after the government refused to renew its terrestrial licence.

Mr Chavez has in the past accused it of backing a coup attempt against him.

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