- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 24, 2002

CARACAS, Venezuela On the anniversary of his re-election, President Hugo Chavez rallied supporters in a show of strength before opposition forces that want to indict him on charges ranging from misusing public funds to crimes against humanity.
Opposition leaders who filed the charges believe their chances of taking the Venezuelan leader to court have increased because of a recent Supreme Court decision absolving four officers of leading an April coup.
Mr. Chavez survived the coup, which briefly removed him from power, when supporters rallied to his defense.
The frenzy over the court decision, indicating its loyalty to the president is wavering, has overshadowed Mr. Chavez's anniversary celebrations of his 2000 re-election.
The president accused the justices of "getting drunk in Caracas bars" and said they had negotiated the ruling with opposition leaders. Eight voted to indict the officers.
"A country like Venezuela doesn't deserve a Supreme Court that did what it did," Mr. Chavez told hundreds of supporters at an evening rally. "Those 11 magistrates who had the audacity to disrespect Venezuela and the world their names will be stained for the next 5,000 years."
In a plaza behind the presidential palace, Mr. Chavez led the crowd in a round of "Happy Birthday," blew out two candles and cut a huge cake decorated with a map of Venezuela.
The rally was the fourth in as many days to demonstrate he has the support to thwart efforts to remove him.
"He's back, he's back, he's back," the crowd chanted, in a play on the popular opposition chant, "He's leaving, He's leaving, leaving, leaving."
Mr. Chavez's allies in the National Assembly, who appointed the Supreme Court two years ago, are looking for ways to unseat some of the 11 justices who voted to absolve the officers in the coup.
One possibility raised by the government is to unearth evidence that some justices presented false credentials to obtain their appointments.
Interior Minister Diosdado Cabello has suggested another tactic: reforming the constitution to allow the "removal of a justice whose attitude doesn't coincide with those who chose him."
Meanwhile, opposition opinion was divided. Many opposition leaders criticized the government's attempt to retaliate against the court but others refused to defend a judiciary they've long accused of being submissive to the president.
"Like the rest of Venezuela, the justices are seeing a man who once had colossal political power lose it," Jorge Olavarria, a historian and outspoken Chavez critic, said in a Monday interview with El Universal.
Also Monday, Foreign Minister Roy Chaderton said Venezuela wants outside mediation to help revive the stalled dialogue between the government and the opposition.
Mr. Chaderton made his plea during a special session in Washington of the ambassadors' council of the Organization of American States, a regional organization that has been pursuing a negotiated solution to Venezuela's 4-month-old political crisis.

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