- The Washington Times - Friday, July 12, 2002

CARACAS, Venezuela Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans marched against Hugo Chavez yesterday, as the president urged his supporters and opponents to avoid violence.

Shouting "Chavez out" and waving Venezuelan flags, protesters were marching within six blocks of the Miraflores Presidential Palace, where a small number of Chavez supporters gathered to show their support for the president. National Guardsmen and police stood between the demonstrators to prevent clashes.

"Chavez's hour has come. It's time for him to go," said Aurelio Marquez, 19, a student. "Chavez has brought moral and economic ruin to Venezuela. We cannot allow him to continue in power for another minute."

In a televised address late Wednesday, Mr. Chavez urged "calm, patience and prudence." He told his supporters to allow journalists to do their job without being harassed. Venezuelan reporters have been assaulted by government sympathizers during past demonstrations.

Mr. Chavez also said his government would welcome international mediation to resolve Venezuela's political crisis.

The march was called by opposition groups commemorating the shooting deaths of 18 persons during an April 11 opposition protest. Hundreds more were wounded.

The violence prompted dissident generals to oust Mr. Chavez on April 12. Mr. Chavez was restored to power April 14 in a popular rebellion against an interim government that abolished the constitution.

The government and the opposition accuse each other of provoking the April violence. Investigations into who committed the slayings in which both pro- and anti-government citizens were victims have stalled.

Both Mr. Chavez's appeal to his supporters past marches have been met with government countermarches and his acceptance of outside mediation were in line with pledges he made to former President Jimmy Carter.

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