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US Appeals For Calm in Venezuela - 2002-08-14


The United States is appealing for calm and respect for constitutional processes in Venezuela, where the country's supreme court is nearing a decision on whether to put on trial four officers linked to the April military uprising that briefly unseated President Hugo Chavez.

The supreme court deliberations, on whether four senior officers will be tried on rebellion charges, have touched off heated political debate between supporters and opponents of President Chavez and brought out a heavy security presence on the streets of Caracas.

U.S. officials are watching the situation with concern given the violence that accompanied the overthrow attempt in April. At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker urged Venezuelans of all political persuasions to respect constitutional order.

"Our policy is quite clear about the need to follow constitutional order in Venezuela, the important need for dialogue and reconciliation nationally, to do all of this peacefully and once again within the constitutional order, which will benefit all the people of Venezuela and strengthen the Venezuelan democracy if they follow that."

The U.S. embassy in Caracas earlier issued a warning to American citizens in Venezuela about the possibility of political unrest, advising them to avoid demonstrations and rallies and to monitor local newscasts for signs of "changed circumstances."

Officials here described the notice as a routine precaution, and dismissed a published suggestion that the warning anticipated another attempt to overthrow the President.

Mr. Chavez, a populist former military officer, has been a strong critic of U.S. foreign policy and has drawn Bush administration criticism for among other things his ties with Cuban President Fidel Castro and visits two years ago to Iraq and Iran.

The Venezuelan president has alleged that U.S. officials had contacts with rebellious officers at key moments in the April uprising that put him out of power for two days.

The United States has denied any improper role, with the State Department last month releasing the findings of an internal investigation that cleared U.S. diplomats of any misconduct and asserted that they discouraged unconstitutional moves against Mr. Chavez.