Crackdown in Venezuela Called a Ploy

Police officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at university students during a protest against President Hugo Ch¿vez in Caracas yesterday.
Police officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at university students during a protest against President Hugo Ch¿vez in Caracas yesterday. (By Howard Yanes -- Associated Press)
Associated Press
Friday, November 9, 2007

CARACAS, Venezuela, Nov. 8 -- University leaders accused the Venezuelan government Thursday of provoking violence to justify military occupations of campuses where students are leading protests against President Hugo Chávez.

Gunmen opened fire on students returning from a peaceful march Wednesday in which 80,000 people denounced a constitutional referendum, planned for December, that would expand Chávez's power. At least eight people were injured in the incident in Caracas, including one by gunfire, officials said.

Justice Minister Pedro Carreño blamed students, opposition leaders and the news media for the violence. "We want to urge the media to reflect, to stop broadcasting biased news through media manipulation, filling a part of the population with hate," Carreño said in an address Wednesday night.

Higher Education Minister Luis Acuña, meanwhile, offered to send in troops to quell the violence, but university authorities quickly rejected the offer as an attempted power grab.

"We won't fall into the trap," said Eleazar Narváez, rector of the Central University of Venezuela.

Chávez's opponents say the president has long wanted to end the autonomy of Venezuela's public universities, most of which are run by rectors associated with the opposition who defeated Chávez followers in campus elections.

Street demonstrations led by university students have spread to at least six cities around Venezuela, and organizers vowed to continue protesting despite crackdowns by security forces and clashes with government supporters. The marches have been mostly peaceful, although there have been several clashes in which students threw rocks and police fired plastic bullets at demonstrators.

On Wednesday, photographers for the Associated Press saw at least four gunmen -- their faces covered by ski masks or T-shirts -- firing handguns at a crowd of government opponents returning to the Central University of Venezuela from the march.


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