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Venezuelan opposition leader demands release of jailed protesters

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A top opponent of President Hugo Chavez demanded the release of jailed protesters Wednesday as university students poured into the streets for a third day to protest the removal of a leading opposition TV station from the air.

Former presidential candidate Manuel Rosales said protests over the government's move to halt the broadcasts of Radio Caracas Television show that "freedom cannot be negotiated nor bargained."

Protesters have filled the capital's plazas and streets since the opposition-aligned channel went off the air at midnight Sunday. Chavez refused to renew its broadcast license, and police have clashed with angry crowds hurling rocks and bottles.

A total of 182 people — mostly university students and minors — have been detained in nearly 100 protests since Sunday, Justice Minister Pedro Carreno said late Tuesday. At least 30 were charged with violent acts, prosecutors said, but it was unclear how many remained behind bars.
"Freedom for those young men and women, immediately. They should not be treated like criminals," said Rosales, the governor of western Zulia state who was handily defeated by Chavez in December elections.

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Venezuela's Chavez widens attack on opposition media

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Tuesday called opposition news channel Globovision an enemy of the state and said he would do what was needed to stop it from inciting violence, only days after he shut another opposition broadcaster.

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans marched in Caracas in a fourth consecutive day of protests over Chavez's closure of the RCTV network - a move which has sparked international criticism that the leftist leader's reforms are undermining democracy.

State television showed hundreds of government supporters marching in downtown Caracas celebrating Chavez's decision.

"Enemies of the homeland, particularly those behind the scenes, I will give you a name: Globovision. Greetings gentlemen of Globovision, you should watch where you are going," Chavez said in a broadcast all channels had to show.

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Venezuela's leftists in turmoil as Chavez tightens grip

When he stresses the need for solidarity, Hugo Chavez often points to Salvador Allende, Chile's Marxist president who died in a military coup in 1973.

The bickering among the leftist parties that made up Allende's base crippled his government, the Venezuelan president tells audiences, and paved the way for Gen. Augusto Pinochet to seize power, ushering in a 17-year military dictatorship in which 3,000 people were killed or disappeared.

Partly to avoid a similar fate, Chavez is demanding that the 24 parties in his governing coalition — everyone from lukewarm liberals to die-hard communists — disband and join his new United Socialist Party of Venezuela. The powerful new party, he says, would accelerate his drive to implant socialism in the country.

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Venezuelans Clash with Police

Venezuelan police fired tear gas and plastic bullets Monday into a crowd of thousands protesting a decision by President Hugo Chavez that forced a television station critical of his leftist government off the air.
Police fired toward the crowd of up to 5,000 protesters from a raised highway, and protesters fled amid clouds of tear gas. They later regrouped in Caracas' Plaza Brion chanting "freedom!" Some tossed rocks and bottles at police, prompting authorities to scatter demonstrators by firing more gas.
It was the largest of several protests that broke out across Caracas hours after Radio Caracas Television ceased broadcasting at midnight Sunday and was replaced with a new state-funded channel. Chavez had refused to renew RCTV's broadcast license, accusing it of "subversive" activities and of backing a 2002 coup against him.

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Venezuela TV Station Off Air by Monday

Venezuela's Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that an opposition-aligned television station must stop broadcasting starting Monday while the high court reviews its appeal of the government's decision not to renew its license.

The Supreme Court announced on its Web site that it had accepted the appeal presented by Radio Caracas Television, but rejected its request for "protective measures."

That means the commercial station will be replaced next week by a public-service station, as announced by President Hugo Chavez, though the court is still reviewing RCTV's challenge to the government shutdown.

Telecommunications Minister Jesse Chacon told a news conference that the Supreme Court decision means that "the channel must go off the air at 11:59 p.m. on May 27. If it doesn't, it will be operating illegally."

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Venezuela completes nationalization of telecommunications company CANTV

President Hugo Chavez's government assumed operational control of the Venezuela's largest telecommunications company on Monday, completing its nationalization by appointing a new board of directors.

Telecommunications Minister Jesse Chacon said the takeover of CA Nacional Telefonos de Venezuela is part of a march toward a "new socialist state." Electric companies and oil fields also have been affected by the nationalization drive.

The government said earlier this month that it had raised its ownership stake in CANTV to 86.2 percent, in part by paying US$572 million (€422.6 million) to New York-based Verizon Communications Inc. for its 28.5 percent stake.

CANTV said the government appointed Socorro Hernandez, who has worked in Venezuela's oil industry, as president of CANTV's new board on Monday. Other board members include representatives of workers as well as various government ministries.

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Venezuelans rally for TV station

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have rallied in the streets of Caracas to protest against President Hugo Chavez's plans to close a private TV station.

The head of the RCTV station addressed the marchers, urging them to defend freedom and "free independent media".

President Chavez has said he will not renew a licence for the RCTV network which is due to expire on 27 May.

He accuses the opposition-allied TV station of supporting a failed coup against him in 2002.
He has referred to opposition television stations in general as "horsemen of the apocalypse" and has blamed RCTV in particular for spreading immorality with its steamy soap operas.
Mr Chavez plans to replace RCTV with a government-funded TV station.

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Venezuela's U.N. for Drug Traffickers

Shouting Venezuelan girls play kickball in a courtyard. A fair-skinned British girl nearby answers a ringing pay phone in Spanish, jumps to answer a second phone in English, then jokes to a French girl at the adjacent food stand: "I don't know which language to answer in."

Recess at a school for the children of the diplomatic corps? Nope, it's the female penitentiary outside Caracas, where Venezuela sends foreigners caught smuggling cocaine.

The inmates are a far cry from the stereotype of the impoverished local-girl-turned-mule by unscrupulous traffickers. Clearly, many middle-class Americans and Europeans are ready to do dirty work for drug rings too, and many of the unsuccessful end up here with eight-year sentences. Their life in lock-up can hold unusual luxuries — and unusual dangers.

As inmates tell it, Venezuela's prisons are run not by the guards, but by the prisoners — and guns and drugs have become common currency inside prison walls. At the nearby male prison, which holds three times its capacity of prisoners, shoot-outs are a regular occurrence. Frightened foreign inmates say the understaffed, underarmed guards cannot stem the violence and do not even clean off the blood marks splattered across the walls.

"Nothing here makes sense," one inmate at the men's penitentiary told TIME, speaking — as all interviewed prisoners did — on condition of anonymity. "You can't apply logic. There's the law, and then there's what actually happens."

Venezuelan prisons are notoriously violent, and news of riots is common in the local press. Last January, 16 inmates at the Uribana prison were hanged, killed and stabbed to death as rival gangs battled for control. Inmates often rebel or go on hunger strikes to protest long procedural delays that leave them locked up for years before they're given a sentence. The Venezuelan Prison Observatory, a Caracas-based NGO, says that the country's jail system has the worst homicide rate in Latin America, calculating that 22 of every 1,000 inmates died violently in 2006.

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Venezuela Posts 8.8 Percent 1Q Growth

Venezuela's economy grew 8.8 percent between January and March of 2007 compared to the same three-month period a year earlier, but oil industry activity shrank sharply, the Central Bank said Tuesday.

A 10.6 percent increase in non-oil related business provided much of the impetus for the first-quarter growth, according to gross domestic product data issued by the bank. GDP measures the value of all goods and services produced in an economy.

The growth in non-oil activity was led by construction, telecommunications and retail.
But output from the country's oil sector - Venezuela's most important industry providing about half of government revenues - fell 5.6 percent. The bank attributed the decline to cuts in oil production that Venezuela agreed to as a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

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Venezuelan oil losing share of key U.S. market

When the state oil company recently took over the last privately run oil fields in Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez declared it a victory against Washington and a giant leap toward a new energy policy that would diversify the market for Venezuelan crude to include rising powers like China.

"Down with the American Empire!" shouted Chávez, who often warns that he'll shut off the oil spigot to the United States if the Bush administration invades Venezuela or hatches an assassination plot against him.

But new study of trade and oil consumption data shows that Venezuela appears ever more dependent on selling its oil to the country Chávez calls "the cruelest, most terrible, most cynical, most murderous empire that has existed." And U.S. government energy trade data show the United States is slightly less dependent on Venezuela, which at one time challenged Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia as the No. 1 provider of foreign oil but now tussles with up-and-coming Nigeria for the fourth spot.

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U.S. Raises Heat on Venezuela Over Drug Trafficking

Latin American drug cartels are using commercial airports and ports in Venezuela as a "safe base" to ship increasing quantities of cocaine to Europe, according to U.S. antidrug czar John Walters.

The comments by Mr. Walters, director of the White House's office of National Drug Control Policy, added to an escalating war of words between Venezuela and the U.S. over global narcotics trafficking.

Mr. Walters urged European nations that have better relations with Venezuela than the U.S. has to persuade President Hugo Chávez to cooperate more in combating the narcotics trade. Mr. Walters's visit to Brussels also included talks with European Union officials on drug eradication in Afghanistan.

Mr. Walters said he wasn't accusing Mr. Chávez or other senior Venezuelan officials of involvement in the trade.

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Chavez: Venezuela to pull out of IMF, World Bank

President Hugo Chavez announced Monday he would formally pull Venezuela out of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, a largely symbolic move because the nation has already paid off its debts to the lending institutions.

"We will no longer have to go to Washington nor to the IMF nor to the World Bank, not to anyone," said the leftist leader, who has long railed against the Washington-based lending institutions.

Chavez said he wanted to formalize Venezuela's exit from the two bodies "tonight and ask them to return what they owe us."

Venezuela recently repaid its debts to the World Bank five years ahead of schedule, saving $8 million. It paid off all its debts to the IMF shortly after Chavez first took office in 1999. The IMF closed its offices in Venezuela late last year.

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Venezuela pulls control from Big Oil

President Hugo Chavez's government took over Venezuela's last remaining privately run oil fields Tuesday, intensifying a decisive struggle with Big Oil over one of the world's most lucrative deposits.

Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez declared that the oil fields had reverted to state control just after midnight. Television footage showed workers in hard hats raising the flags of Venezuela and the national oil company at a refinery and four drilling fields in the oil-rich Orinoco River basin. Chavez planned a more elaborate celebration Tuesday afternoon with red-clad oil workers, soldiers and a fly over by Russian-made fighter jets.

The companies ceding control include BP Plc (Charts), ConocoPhillips (Charts, Fortune 500), Exxon Mobil (Charts, Fortune 500)., Chevron (Charts, Fortune 500), France's Total SA (Charts) and Norway's Statoil ASA (Charts). All but ConocoPhillips have agreed in principle to state control, and Venezuela has warned it may expropriate that company's assets if it doesn't follow suit.

Despite the fanfare, these companies remain locked in a behind-the-scenes struggle with the Chavez government, and appear to be taking a decisive stand, demanding conditions - and presumably compensation - to convince them that Venezuela will continue to be good business.

Chevron's future in Venezuela "will very much be dependent on how we're treated in the current negotiation," said David O'Reilly, chief executive of the San Ramon, Calif.-based company. "That process is going to have a direct impact on our appetite going forward."

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