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Venezuela Marks Anniversary of Democracy

Venezuela Marks Anniversary of Democracy

Christopher Toothaker, Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela — Supporters of President Hugo Chavez
marched through Caracas on Sunday, demanding respect for
Venezuela's sovereignty following U.S. criticism and
Colombia's acknowledgment that it paid a bounty to capture a
rebel on Venezuelan soil.

To mark the 47th anniversary of Venezuelan democracy, critics
of Chavez staged a smaller march, accusing him of threatening
freedoms gained with the Jan. 23, 1958, overthrow of Gen.
Marcos Perez Jimenez, Venezuela's last dictator."Venezuela must be respected!" Chavez told a massive crowd
outside Miraflores presidential palace. "Nobody can deny that
what Colombia has done is a violation of international law
.. (but) the only government that has defended this vulgar
error is the imperialist government of the United States."

The crowd chanted, "Chavez makes them crazy!"

Chavez blamed the United States for the crisis with Colombia.
"This provocation came from Washington. It is the latest
attempt by the imperialists ... to ruin our relations with
Colombia," he said.

Chanting pro-Chavez slogans and carrying banners reading
"Bush: Venezuela Is Not Iraq!" and
"Colombia, Stay Out of Venezuela," tens of thousands of
loyalists danced to traditional folk music booming from
loudspeakers on flatbed trucks.

Supporters said Chavez had championed national sovereignty,
involved the masses in politics and established social
programs to benefit the poor.

"Venezuela's democracy is an example for the world, and with
Chavez as president it's more alive than ever," said 59-year-
old Francisco Pabon, who came to Caracas by bus from southern
Amazonas state to join the pro-government march.

A row between Caracas and Bogota arose when Colombia's
defense minister, Jorge Uribe, acknowledged that Colombia
paid bounty hunters to arrest a wanted guerrilla in
Venezuelan territory.

Chavez called the capture of Rodrigo Granda, a member of the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a
"kidnapping" and "bribing" that "gravely violated Venezuela's

Chavez recalled Venezuela's ambassador to Bogota and froze
all economic deals between the two countries. He also
demanded an apology from Colombian President Alvaro Uribe,
which was not forthcoming.

Uribe accuses Chavez of harboring FARC guerrillas and says
Colombia has a right to hunt down "narcoterrorists."

"Chavistas," as the president's supporters are known, marched
from a massive slum in eastern Caracas to Miraflores, on the
other side of town.

"We have nothing against our Colombian brothers, but their
government has made an unacceptable mistake," Pabon said.

Hundreds of Chavez opponents marched in the upscale Chacao
district. Many government adversaries blame Chavez for the
spat with Colombia, saying he has either ignored the presence
of Colombia's Marxist rebels in Venezuela or offered them

"Chavez is the cause of this problem with Colombia, not
Uribe, because he has given protection to Colombian rebels,"
Francis Ordonez, a 55-year-old housewife said as she waved a
red, yellow and blue Venezuelan flag.

Last week Secretary of State nominee Condoleezza Rice accused Venezuela of meddling in its neighbors'
affairs and expressed concern about its friendship with Cuba.

Chavez said he would send Rice Cuban materials his government
uses in a nationwide literacy program so she can read the
news about "what is really happening" in Venezuela.

Holding up a U.S. dollar bill, Chavez also challenged
President Bush to wager which president will remain in office

"I challenge you to a bet Mr. Bush, one dollar, who will last
longer? You in the White House or me in Miraflores?" said
Chavez, who has repeatedly accused the United States of
conspiring to oust him.