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White House Blames Chavez for Venezuelan Violence

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

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says actions encouraged by Mr. Chavez provoked the crisis when his government suppressed a peaceful demonstration Thursday by ordering supporters to fire on unarmed protestors in the capital Caracas.

At least 13 people were killed and 110 wounded when gunmen opened fire on a demonstration by more than 150,000 people marching on the presidential palace.

Mr. Fleischer says President Bush is saddened by the loss of life and expresses his solidarity with the Venezuelan people. He says the military "commendably" refused to open fire on the demonstrators and did not support what he calls the government's role in this human rights violation.

Mr. Fleischer says the Chavez government tried to stop independent media from reporting on the shooting, and he thanked the military for keeping the public informed by allowing media outlets to stay open.

The White House spokesman says 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 says he will head a transitional government at the request of the military. He 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 closer ties with Cuban President Fidel Castro.

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

The former leader is currently under arrest at a military barracks. Responding to a question about U.S. support for what appears to be an extra-constitutional change of power, Mr. Fleischer says President Chavez resigned, dismissing his vice president and cabinet. It's a Venezuelan issue, he says.

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.