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Chavez Reacts to Coup Rumors in Venezuela

Venezuela President Would Meet Coup 'Rifle in Hand'

By Silene Ramirez

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday
dismissed rumors of a possible military coup in his South American
nation, but warned that if there were any such insurrection he would
meet it with "my rifle in hand."

As the popularity of former coup leader Chavez has slipped over the
last year, the opposition-run media and his political opponents have
played on rumors of discontent in the armed forces.

Two weeks ago, military chiefs felt it necessary to issue a written
statement expressing their "full support" for the former-paratrooper
turned president's three-year-old "revolutionary" government.

The president said that in a meeting with the heads of the armed
forces on that day "we laughed a lot... about the rumors of a
possible coup which some people have set themselves the tasks of

"In the armed forces, there is a deep awareness of the need for the
profound changes which we are undertaking," said Chavez in an
interview with the Televen television channel.

The president's "democratic revolution" aims to rid oil-rich
Venezuela of the widespread graft and poverty that afflict its 24
million population, but disillusionment with his administration has
grown among the poor Venezuelans who swept him to power as he has
failed to deliver on campaign promises.

According to recent polls, Chavez's popularity has sunk from more
than 80 percent when he first took office to less than 50 percent at

A raft of legislation, including agrarian and oil reforms, which the
president approved by decree last week provoked outcry from business
chief, ranchers, and oil workers. Church leaders have criticized his
authoritarian style of government, while union leaders have
threatened action to protest what they call his interference in a
recent leadership vote.

"If it should occur to someone to stage an armed uprising, to attempt
a coup, I would put on my military uniform and take my rifle in
hand," said Chavez, who rose to fame in a botched 1992 coup and won
power at the ballot box six years later.

Chavez admitted there was some discontent in the armed forces, but he
blamed that on dissatisfaction over salaries.

"What I say to the military is that as commander in chief of the
armed forces, I cannot raise salaries just for soldiers and ignore
the request from doctors, teachers, nurses, because everyone in the
country has a poor salary," he said.

Asked if he had considered resigning in the face of bitter media
criticism of his government and protests from many sectors of
society, Chavez said: "No way. There is no reason for that."

"If one day, I realize that I am doing harm to the country, then I
would be the first to go far away," he said.