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President Bush Says Chavez Responsible for Downfall - 2002-04-12


President Bush has said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is responsible for the violence that led to the military forcing him from power. The Bush administration said it hopes the country's new leaders move quickly toward democracy.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer blames Mr. Chavez for provoking the crisis when his supporters opened fire on 150,000 people marching on the presidential palace in Caracas.

"We know that the action encouraged by the Chavez government provoked this crisis. According to the best information available, the Chavez government suppressed peaceful demonstrations. Government supporters, on orders from the Chavez government fired on unarmed, peaceful protestors resulting in 10 killed and 100 wounded," Mr. Fleischer said.

Mr. Fleischer has said President Bush is saddened by the loss of life and expresses his solidarity with the Venezuelan people. The White House spokesman said the military "commendably" refused to join in the attack on the demonstration.

"Venezuelan military and police refused to fire on the peaceful demonstrators and refused to support the government's role in such human rights violations. The government also tried to prevent independent news media from reporting on these events," he said.

Mr. Fleischer said President Bush looks forward to working with all democratic forces in Venezuela to restore what he calls "the essential elements" of democracy.

The head of the country's largest business association will head a transitional government at the request of the military. He has announced an immediate end to a general strike that has paralyzed Venezuela's oil industry.

During his three year presidency, Mr. Chavez alienated many segments of Venezuelan society including business leaders, labor groups, the news media, and Roman Catholic leaders. He also angered the United States by forging close ties with Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Mr. Fleischer would not say whether President Bush is happy to see Mr. Chavez go, repeating only that he is saddened by the loss of life.

Responding to a question about U.S. support for what appears to be an extra-constitutional change of power, Mr. Fleischer said President Chavez resigned, dismissing his vice president and cabinet before he was arrested by the military. It is an Venezuelan issue, he said.

That contrasts with some European reaction. A French foreign ministry spokesman condemned the military's "attack on institutional order" saying France expects the political crisis to be resolved quickly and democratic stability restored.

The European Commission called on Venezuela's army to "show continued respect for human rights and the rule of law." A spokesman said the Commission expresses its strong hope for a peaceful solution "in line with democratic principles" leading to free and fair elections as quickly as possible.

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