- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

CARACAS, Venezuela (Agence France-Presse) Detained business leader Carlos Fernandez, who led a 63-day strike against President Hugo Chavez, said yesterday that his case "should be resolved by political means."
Mr. Fernandez, who maintains that the crippling strike was a political action by opposition forces, did not clarify what he meant by a political solution.
He was detained at dawn Thursday on charges of treason and rebellion, part of a crackdown by Mr. Chavez against his opponents. A judge put him under house arrest Sunday.
Mr. Fernandez also rejected Mr. Chavez's comments in a Sunday radio broadcast, calling him a "terrorist," "coward" and "saboteur."
"How can I be considered a terrorist when I fight for freedom, democracy, peace and unity of the Venezuelan people," Mr. Fernandez told reporters from his home at Valencia, 65 miles west of Caracas.
"Democracy is on a knife's edge," he said as he insisted he would continue his fight for a more democratic country "full of opportunities for all Venezuelans."
At a status hearing Sunday, Judge Gisela Hernandez ruled that Mr. Fernandez should be held under house arrest "because he might flee the country" before facing trial. The judge upheld charges of rebellion and incitement against Mr. Fernandez, but she threw out three others: treason, association with criminals and destruction of property.
An arrest warrant was issued for another top opposition leader, Carlos Ortega, president of the Venezuelan Workers' Confederation, who has gone into hiding.
Mr. Fernandez and Mr. Ortega led the opposition strike that failed to drive Mr. Chavez from power but paralyzed the country's key oil industry, costing it $4 billion dollars in losses.


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