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Police Clash With Chavez Supporters

August 2, 2002

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Venezuelan police clashed with about 200 supporters of President Hugo Chavez Thursday, forcing downtown streets and shops to close and creating traffic jams.

``Chavistas″ opened fire and threw crude firebombs at a police water cannon late Thursday. At least two people were arrested. A police officer racing to the scene died when he was accidentally crushed by the water cannon, said Greater Caracas Mayor Alfredo Pena.

Riot police used tear gas to disperse the protesters near the presidential palace. Hundreds of bystanders fled, screaming and covering their eyes. Earlier Thursday, ``Chavistas″ burned a police motorcycle parked near the palace.

It was the third consecutive day of clashes between police and ``Chavistas″ in the city. On Wednesday, police used tear gas and fired shots into the air to break up fights outside Venezuela’s Supreme Court.

The court is deciding whether four high-ranking military officers should be tried for rebellion during an April 12-14 coup that briefly ousted Chavez. A decision is expected next week at the latest.

Former politician Allan Brewer Carias called the protests an ``attack on the independence and autonomy of the justice.″ But some protesters said Thursday they were angered by police repression of demonstrations earlier this week. The metropolitan police report to Pena, a Chavez opponent.

Chavez supporters have tried to attack the four officers, along with retired officers and civilian supporters of the defendants. If convicted, the officers could face up to 30 years in prison.

Chavez was ousted by rebel officers a day after 18 civilians were killed during an opposition protest. The four officers refused to obey Chavez’s orders to deploy troops against unarmed civilians.

Chavez was reinstated after an interim government abolished Venezuela’s Constitution.

Foreign Minister Roy Chaderton and Tarek William Saab, a top lawmaker with the ruling Fifth Republic Movement party, appealed for calm, saying the street violence was damaging the image of the country.

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