lunes, 28 de mayo de 2007

Troops fire upon protesters in Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela - National Guard troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets Monday into a crowd of protesters angry over a decision by President Hugo Chavez that forced a critical television station off the air

University students blocked one lane of a major highway hours after Radio Caracas Television ceased broadcasting at midnight 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.

Two students were injured by rubber bullets and a third was hit with a tear gas canister, said Ana Teresa Yepez, an administrator at Caracas' Metropolitan University. She said about 20 protesters were treated for inhaling tear gas.

The new public channel, TVES, launched its transmissions with artists singing pro-Chavez music, then carried an exercise program and a talk show, interspersed with government ads proclaiming, "Now Venezuela belongs to everyone."
Crowds of students demonstrated across Caracas, saying they fear for the future of free speech.
"I plan to keep protesting because we're Venezuelans and it's our right," said Valentina Ramos, 17, a Metropolitan University student who was hit in the head with a tear gas canister and received stitches.
She said the protest was peaceful, but National Guard troops said they acted after students hurled rocks and sticks. Police said 11 officers were injured in separate protests on Sunday that were broken up with water cannon and tear gas.
Thousands of government supporters reveled in the streets as they watched the midnight changeover on large TV screens, seeing RCTV's signal go black and then be replaced by a TVES logo. Others launched fireworks and danced in the streets.
Inside the studios of RCTV — the sole opposition-aligned TV station with nationwide reach — disheartened actors and comedians wept and embraced in the final minutes on the air.
They bowed their heads in prayer, and presenter Nelson Bustamante declared: "Long live Venezuela! We will return soon."

The socialist president says he is democratizing the airwaves by turning the network's signal over to public use. Germany, which holds the European Union presidency, expressed concern that Venezuela let RCTV's license expire "without holding an open competition for the successor license." It said the EU expects that Venezuela will uphold freedom of speech and "support pluralism."

Founded in 1953, RCTV regularly topped viewer ratings with its talk shows, sports, soap operas and comedy programs. But Chavez accused the network of helping to incite a failed coup in 2002, violating broadcast laws and "poisoning" Venezuelans with programming that promoted capitalism. RCTV's managers deny wrongdoing.

The government promises TVES will be more diverse, buying 70 percent of its content from independent Venezuelan producers.

"We've come here to start a new television with the true face of the people, the face that was hidden, the face that they didn't allow us to show," said Roman Chalbaud, a pro-Chavez filmmaker appointed by the government to TVES' board of directors.
TVES received $4 million in startup funds from the government, but officials say it also may seek commercial advertising.

Most Venezuelan news media are in private hands, including many newspapers and radio stations that remain critical of Chavez. But the only major surviving opposition-sided TV channel is Globovision, which is not seen in all parts of the country.

FABIOLA SANCHEZ, Associated Press Writer

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