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At OAS gathering, debate over Venezuela

A 34-nation hemispheric gathering that was supposed to celebrate an agreement to cooperate on energy issues instead veered into the politics of Venezuela's provocative President Hugo Chávez.

The annual General Assembly of the Organization of American States that began with the opening ceremonies in Panama Sunday comes just a week after Chávez refused to renew the broadcast license of an opposition TV station, making almost certain that freedom of expression issues would loom large in the Panamanian capital.

Watchdog groups say taking RCTV off the air constituted the most forceful attack on independent media in Latin America by the executive branch in recent times, testing the ability of OAS member-states to enforce the democratic principles they espouse.

The leftwing Chávez accuses RCTV of coup-mongering and representing the interests of ''oligarchs'' but his decision has brought him a flood of condemnation, from the legislative branches of the United States and Brazil to the European Union.

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