- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2003

UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 16 (UPI) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Thursday, during a U.N. visit, dismissed the likelihood of either an imminent civil war or a referendum next month in his country, which since last month has been crippled by strikes calling for his removal.

He blamed the strikes on subversive elements.

Chavez was at U.N. headquarters to mark the formal handing over of the chairmanship of the Group of 77 to Morocco.

After a nearly hourlong meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Chavez met with reporters.

He said workers in Venezuela had the right to strike under law.

"But that's not what is happening right now in Venezuela, and what is happening in Venezuela — and I want to condemn this before the world, and I've just spoken of this to the secretary-general — is a subversive movement which has unhesitatingly used tools of terrorism to impose its views against the national Constitution," he said, waving a small blue copy of the document. "I've told the opposition … that it is possible to review steps of action."

"They want to call elections this year," the president said. "Well it requires a certain amount of technical and political time. That's feasible. The Constitution provides for ways there can be reform. There can be legislative reform that would be discussed in the National Assembly. A referendum can be discussed. But the Constitution can be reformed. There are sectors that have great economic might and there is subversion on the extreme right."

He said a referendum next month was practically impossible to mount at this late stage, but there was the possibility of one at the halfway point of his administration, as allowed by the Constitution, in August.

He blamed major broadcasting channels, as he did in a coup attempt he survived last April.

"You can't propose that a country move away from the constitution through bribery through terrorist action," he said. "A country cannot do that. They are coups against the Constitution."

A reporter asked, "Do you fear a civil war in Venezuela?"

Without missing a beat, he responded emphatically, "There will be none. I can say that with a thorough understanding of my people, my country and circumstances. If in Venezuela there were circumstances that would permit a civil war there would already be one. You know what happened the April 11: From the 11th, 12th 13th of April, there were a million people on the streets of Venezuela. There were prisoners. There was a coup d'etat. There were military supporters, and there were others who called for constitutional reform and they seized the government, the palace.

"Yet, we resumed a democratic life and the constitutional path," Chavez said. "So, let me say that in Venezuela most fortunately, there are no circumstances that would allow a civil war. Thanks to God and thanks to the conscience of our people."

According to a U.N. spokesman, the talks with Annan addressed the efforts of the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Cesar Gaviria, and the manner in which the United Nations could help Venezuela overcome the current crisis.

Chavez expressed his views on the state of affairs and on further ways to find a solution, the statement said. He explained that a first step had been taken toward the formation of a Group of Friends of Venezuela.

"The secretary-general reiterated his concern regarding the situation and emphasized the need to take further steps in accordance with the Constitution and respect for democratic principles, justice and human rights," the statement said. "The problem of governability in the country requires concerted efforts from all sides to reduce tensions. This is a process in which the international community could be of assistance."

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