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A Bid to Ease Chávez's Power Grip

CARACAS, Venezuela -- A student movement that has swept across Venezuela is posing a strong challenge to President Hugo Chávez's drive to extinguish independent power centers in the universities and media.

Although Mr. Chávez continues to have a firm grip on the government, the student protests have demonstrated a broad uneasiness with his efforts to dominate Venezuelan society.

Mr. Chávez's approval ratings have fallen and suspicion of his intentions has grown among Venezuelans. He also hasn't responded to the protests in a way that resonates with the public, many of whom view the students with sympathy. Instead, he has threatened to use violence to put down the demonstrations. In Venezuela, as in most Latin American countries, students have played an outsized political role, including in the country's transition to democracy in 1958.

Since he was first elected president in 1998, Mr. Chávez has brought to heel a number of once-independent power centers in Venezuela -- notably the oil industry, judiciary, military and legislature. The university system and a quickly diminishing sector of the Venezuelan media are among the few important institutions outside the ambit of his control.

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