- The Washington Times - Monday, November 18, 2002

CARACAS, Venezuela Hundreds of people banging pots and pans faced off against national guardsmen at a police station yesterday to protest President Hugo Chavez's order to take over the Caracas police.
The protesters, who gathered outside several other precincts as well, shouted, "Get out, get out" and "Coup plotters" as they waved Venezuelan flags.
About 100 soldiers equipped with shields and tear gas formed a chain to keep protesters from entering the station, home of an elite motorcycle unit in the hills overlooking Caracas.
Police refused to accept the takeover, and control of the force remained in question.
On Saturday, the government took command of the 9,000-strong force to end a 1-month labor dispute between officers loyal to Mr. Chavez and others who support the outspoken mayor of Caracas, Alfredo Pena.
Mr. Chavez deployed soldiers in armored troop carriers to Caracas' 10 police stations in what critics said was a move to weaken Mr. Pena.
Police Chief Henry Vivas, appointed by Mr. Pena, refused to step down even after Interior Minister Diosdado Cabello named Gonzalo Sanchez Delgado as the new chief.
Speaking during his weekly radio program "Hello President," Mr. Chavez said the government ordered the takeover because disputes within the force had become "unbearable," and Mr. Pena had failed to resolve the situation.
"This has been done without violence, without violating anybody's rights," Mr. Chavez said. "We have to impose authority."
The takeover raised concerns that police would not be able to guarantee security during the country's frequent political demonstrations.
The Democratic Coordinator movement, a coalition of opposition groups pushing for a referendum on Mr. Chavez's rule, condemned the takeover.
"We must tell [Mr. Chavez] that he can't intimidate us with armored personnel carriers. We must show that we will restore constitutionality in Venezuela," the group said in a statement.
Mr. Pena accused Mr. Chavez of trying to create chaos and ruin negotiations mediated by the Organization of American States so that the president could declare martial law.
Opponents say Mr. Chavez has divided the military, dragged the nation into recession, and polarized the country. Venezuela's largest labor confederation said it may call a general strike this week.
Venezuela's opposition accuses Mr. Chavez of trying to avoid a nonbinding national referendum on his rule. Opponents say his public support has fallen substantially since his 1998 election and re-election to a six-year term in 2000.
Mr. Chavez accuses the opposition of seeking another coup. He denied that the takeover violated constitutional norms.
"Some are calling this a coup. Let them say what they will. It is up the executive to see that the laws are observed," said Mr. Chavez.


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