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Caracas Calm After Chavez Return - 2002-04-16

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez came before foreign reporters Monday to answer questions about his brief exit from power late last week and to call for national unity.

Mr. Chavez is reaching out to opponents and promising to avoid any further confrontation.

In a session that lasted more than three hours, President Chavez continued the conciliatory manner of speech that he began in the early morning hours Sunday just after his return. Mr. Chavez said he would meet on Tuesday with cabinet members and other officials to plan for a national dialogue.

He invited all Venezuelans and all sectors of the nation to examine what had happened in recent days in order to rectify that which needs to be rectified.

He admitted that he had made mistakes just as had his opponents and he called on them to join him in a legal, constitutional and peaceful effort to achieve consensus.

During his long news conference the Venezuelan leader also revealed that he was, at one point during his captivity last week, disposed to resign, but only if constitutional procedures were followed. This would have allowed the Chavez-dominated National Assembly to choose the next president.

Instead, the interim president chosen by the military men who overthrew Mr. Chavez last Friday put businessman Pedro Carmona in the presidential chair and he dissolved the National Assembly. Other military officers objected to this move and, after tens of thousands of Chavez supporters took to the streets, they ousted Mr. Carmona and allowed Mr. Chavez to return.

Caracas remains calm, but tense after the violence of recent days. There were long lines and banks and grocery stores Monday and traffic was about half of what is normal here. In some areas of the city, business owners are picking through what remains of shops that were looted during the riots. At least 49 people died in the disturbances, according to authorities.

Meanwhile, Organization of American States Secretary General Cesar Gaviria has arrived in Caracas to talk with President Chavez and other political figures. He is to present a report on the situation to the Washington-based body on Thursday.