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Venezuela's Chavez calls protesting students 'pawns of Washington'

CARACAS, Venezuela: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez derided students who have protested his decision to force an opposition TV station off the air as U.S. "pawns," ridiculing them for walking out of a congressional debate on freedom of expression.

University students — who have led more than a week of street protests condemning his decision not to renew the broadcast license of Radio Caracas Television, or RCTV — walked out of a National Assembly debate Thursday saying they did not want to become part of a political spectacle.

"I had information that those youths were going to put on a show in the National Assembly," Chavez said. "They're nothing but pawns of the empire."

Chavez's comments came during a speech to pro-government students that all Venezuelan television channels broadcast by government order — a frequent practice by Chavez known as a "cadena" or national network.

As the cadena interrupted regular programming, residents in some parts of the capital banged on pots and pans from their windows in protest. Such protests have occurred several times since RCTV was taken off the air on May 27.

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