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US Urges Calm Before Venezuelan Opposition March

The United States is urging Venezuelans to remain calm and respect the rule of law in advance of an opposition march Thursday marking three months since a failed coup attempt against President Hugo Chavez.

There are concerns among both supporters and opponents of President Chavez in Venezuela that the demonstrations might lead to the same kind of violence that preceded the April coup attempt.

At a briefing in Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the United States shares those concerns, appealing to Venezuelans to keep the protests peaceful and to focus on political reconciliation.

"Tomorrow, Venezuelans are going to mark the events of April 11, that produced a constitutional crisis, led to the deaths of 17 people, and the injury of over 100 others," he said. "Those events three months ago, I think, should act as a sobering reminder to all of the importance of dialogue, of peaceful resolution of conflict and of course the rule of law." The violence that broke out at the April 11 opposition march, and ensuing rioting in Caracas neighborhoods that left another 60 people dead, were followed by the overthrow move by military officers opposed to President Chavez' populist policies.

But the effort to depose him crumbled and Mr. Chavez, himself a former senior officer, returned to power three days later, pledging to seek national dialogue.

Spokesman Reeker said the Bush administration supported the political-peacemaking mission to Venezuela by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who left Caracas Wednesday after four days of consultations, but without convening the meeting between President Chavez and leading opponents that he had hoped for.

The spokesman said the State Department expects to consult with the former President on the results of his trip, and also he stressed a standing offer by the Organization of American States, the OAS, to facilitate Venezuelan reconciliation.