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Brazilian President Urges Respect for Rule of Law in Venezuela - 2003-08-26

Brazil's president has urged respect for the rule of law during a visit to Venezuela, where opposition political parties have been pressing for a national referendum on the continued rule of President Hugo Chavez.

The itinerary for Tuesday's visit to Caracas by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva highlighted a meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, as well as the signing of bilateral accords on petroleum ventures and other matters.

But much of the media attention surrounding the visit focussed on whether Mr. Lula da Silva would publicly endorse a national referendum long-sought by Venezuelan opposition groups. Venezuela's constitution provides for such a referendum, but the exercise, if carried out, could force the removal of the leftist Mr. Chavez, a man President Lula da Silva regards as a friend and ideological ally in the region.

In the end, the Brazilian leader sidestepped the thorny referendum issue by making a generalized statement in favor of constitutional rule in South America.

"It seems to me that the cycle of coups has ended in South America," he said during a joint news conference in Caracas. "Today, we embrace dialogue, respect for pluralism, and the constitutions and laws of our countries."

Late Monday, Venezuela's Supreme Court appointed a national electoral council charged with organizing the referendum and setting a polling date. President Chavez has accused the justices of being coerced by opposition groups, and described the entire referendum initiative as a de facto coup attempt. Opponents of Mr. Chavez say the president has abused his position and wrecked the economy.

President Lula da Silva's stop in Venezuela was the second of a two-nation trip. Monday, the Brazilian leader was in Peru, where he signed accords with his Peruvian counterpart, Alejandro Toledo, that provide for Peru's partial integration into the Mercosur trading bloc of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.