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Venezuela's Interim President Promises  Free, Fair and Transparent Elections - 2002-04-13

In Venezuela, there is a new interim president following the resignation of ex-president Hugo Chavez in the early morning hours Friday. The man replacing Mr. Chavez was one of his principle foes.

The new president of Venezuela is Pedro Carmona Estanga, leader of the business group, known as Fedecamaras, that took the lead in opposing the Chavez government over the past few years. After taking the oath of office, Mr. Carmona spoke to the nation about what his transitional government will attempt to do.

He said he assumes this great responsibility with profound emotion and with a profound commitment to restore democratic institutions. The new president also promised to carry out free, fair and transparent elections for president, National Assembly and other offices as soon as possible.

Mr. Carmona cannot run for president under the rules of his appointment and his term is limited to one year.

The interim president said he will reinstate all executives and workers from the state-owned oil company who were fired in February by Mr. Chavez. He also promised to investigate the deaths of protesters on Thursday and provide compensation to their families. Witnesses say supporters of Mr. Chavez shot and killed several people who were demonstrating in front of the presidential palace. This action was one of the chief reasons cited by the military in moving against Mr. Chavez and demanding his resignation.

The former president remains under arrest at a military base, but some former officials from his government are denying that he resigned. Chavez supporters are calling his removal a coup d'etat. That charge is also being echoed in Havana, where the government of Cuban President Fidel Castro is denouncing the removal of Mr. Chavez as illegal. Hugo Chavez maintained friendly relations with Cuba and sold the communist nation oil at below-market prices. Venezuela's new leaders say they will no longer supply Cuba with oil.

The change of government in Venezuela is also being viewed critically by most other nations in the hemisphere. At a Group of Rio meeting in San Jose, Costa Rica Friday, 19 heads of state condemned the disruption of democracy in Venezuela.