- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Venezuela objects

The Venezuelan Embassy yesterday rejected a decision that benefited political opponents who want to remove leftist President Hugo Chavez from office.

The embassy said the Supreme Court’s electoral chamber overstepped its authority Monday when it ruled in favor of organizers of a petition to hold a referendum on the fate of the increasingly unpopular leader.

“The electoral chamber’s decision is contrary to the Venezuelan Constitution,” the embassy said. “Under the constitution, this chamber does not have the competence to make decisions on any constitutional matters.”

The embassy said the court’s constitutional chamber is the only body that can rule on such issues. The Supreme Court, which includes 20 magistrates, comprises several chambers that rule on different parts of the country’s laws.

The electoral chamber handed Mr. Chavez’s opponents a victory in their petition drive by overruling an earlier decision by the National Elections Council that challenged 870,000 signatures.

The electoral chamber decided that the signatures are valid unless the voters say their names were forged.

The petition organizers collected more than 3 million names. They needed 2.4 million to force a vote on Mr. Chavez.

The embassy said the government expects the court’s constitutional chamber to review the case.

“We should all examine carefully the provisions of our constitution and ask all members of the public to respect the democratic and peaceful character of the social, economic and political process of transformation that is occurring in Venezuela,” the embassy said.

“It is important that everyone do his or her part to ensure a peaceful and constitutional resolution to the issues surrounding the referendum process.”

Pressing North Korea

Howard Baker, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, yesterday promised the United States will continue to pressure Pyongyang to account for Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korean agents over the past 20 years.

“Pressure should be maintained on North Korea so it understands it will not benefit from refusing to return abductees to Japan,” Mr. Baker told relatives of some of the victims, according to a report from Japan’s Kyodo News.

He predicted that the Bush administration will add the abduction issue to its list of abuses by states that sponsor terrorism.

More Georgia trouble

U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Richard Miles has been dispatched to another trouble spot in the former Soviet republic as tension flared in the restive region of Adzhara on the Black Sea.

He traveled there with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy and later discussed the situation with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, a State Department spokesman said this week.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has also raised the issue, United Press International reported.

“Secretary Powell has been in touch with President Saakashvili,” said spokesman Adam Ereli. “He has also spoken with Russia’s national security adviser. Secretary Powell urged President Saakashvili not to allow the situation in Adzhara to escalate.”

Mr. Ereli added that Russia, which has troops stationed in Georgia, has assured the Bush administration that it will not intervene in Adzhara.

“We’ve been in contact with the Russians, and they have indicated to us that their troops will remain in their barracks unless threatened,” he said.

Mr. Saakashvili on Sunday warned the semiautonomous province to respect the authority of his government.

Georgia also has separatist tension in the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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