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Venezuelan Opposition Leader Detained


Venezuelan opposition leader Carlos Fernandez has been detained by armed men believed to be secret police. Opposition leaders called for protests in support of Mr. Fernandez, one of the organizers of a two-month anti-government strike. Mr. Fernandez is charged with treason and criminal conspiracy.

Carlos Fernandez, president of Venezuela's main business organization, Fedecamaras, was one of three main leaders of the two-month-long strike against the government of President Hugo Chavez.

Mr. Chavez has accused the leaders of the strike - which remains in effect in the economically crucial oil industry - of sabotage and of seeking to overthrow his government by force.

During his regular Sunday morning television and radio program this week, the president exhorted judges and public prosecutors to take action against the organizers of the work stoppage.

Two other strike leaders, Carlos Ortega of the main trade union confederation, the CTV, and former oil industry executive Juan Fernandez, have been warned to turn themselves in, or face arrest in similar circumstances.

Although government officials were slow to comment, the judge who claims to have issued the arrest warrant for Carlos Fernandez listed a series of charges against him. These include treason, rebellion and criminal conspiracy.

According to spokesmen for Fedecamaras, the armed men who detained the business leader presented neither identification nor an arrest warrant. They fired into the air to disperse a small crowd, before taking Mr. Fernandez away.

Leaders of the opposition umbrella group, the Democratic Coordinator, were quick to condemn the reported arrest as arbitrary and illegal.

The seizure of Carlos Fernandez comes just days after the torture and murder of three soldiers and a young woman involved in a four-month-old anti-government protest by military officers in a Caracas square. The circumstances of those murders have yet to be clarified.

The Washington-based organization, Human Rights Watch, has called on the government to carry out a full and impartial investigation of the murders, and to protect a teenage witness who was also seriously injured.

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