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Venezuelan Students Stage Hunger Strike for Election Reform

Venezuelan Students Stage Hunger Strike for Election Reformi
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April 09, 2013 10:27 PM
A group of students in Caracas has gone on a hunger strike -- to protest what they say is an unfair election process currently underway in Venezuela. VOA's Brian Padden is in Venezuela to cover the upcoming election to replace President Hugo Chavez who died of cancer earlier this year, and has this report.
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Brian Padden
— A group of students in Caracas has gone on a hunger strike to protest what they say is an unfair election process currently underway in Venezuela. 

About 25 university students have set up camp in downtown Caracas and have have vowed not to eat for the ten days leading up to Sunday's presidential election. Tugomir Yepez says they are there to protest what they say is the ruling Socialist party's unfair advantages over the opposition Unity party in the campaign and election.

“To be triumphant different parameters for the Unity candidate should exist and for this reason we are protesting and fighting for the enforcement of these just conditions,” Yepez said.

In recent polls, acting President Nicolas Maduro is leading opposition candidate Henrique Capriles by a significant margin.

But the students say the process is not fair because President Maduro has unlimited access to state media - while Capriles is limited to three minutes per day of paid campaign advertising.

President Maduro, like his predecessor President Hugo Chavez, they say, also uses government resources and workers for campaign purposes.

They see officials at the National Electoral Council - who were selected by the Chavista-dominated National Assembly - as biased.

Some international election monitoring groups like the Carter Center have voiced concerns in the past about some of these issues such as unequal media access for candidates but have also praised the work of the National Electoral Council and have called the actual voting system in place free and fair.

The student hunger strikers are being closely monitored by Doctor Carlos Pacchano, who is worried about the long-term health effects the strike might have on some of the protesters.

“Some patients I believe, or I suspect in this case, can make it. But there are other patients, their bodies cannot operate in this form. Everybody has different metabolisms and in this case there are certain patients that won't make it till Sunday.” Pacchano said.

Despite the health risks, the students say they will continue their non-violent demonstration to push for election reforms.

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