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Venezuela Tense During G-15 Summit

By Alexandra Beech,

11:17 am est - As the presidents of fifteen developing countries (G-15) met at a summit in Caracas to discuss fighting poverty with oil wealth, the Venezuelan National Guard barricaded the area surrounding the Teresa Carreno Theater, where the summit is talking place. Currently, 10,800 Venezuelan soldiers are guarding the surroundings, according to Caracas garrison commander Carlos Acosta Pérez.

Tensions were running high, as a massive opposition march proceeded from Parque del Este on its way to Morelos Park, near the summit. National Guardsmen have hurled tear gas and shot rubber bullets at opposition marchers near Libertador Avenue. One television crewman has been wounded and was carried away on a motorcycle to a hospital.

The government earlier warned that any opposition marchers who approached the National Guard barricade would be stopped, despite legal permits to end the march at Morelos Park. The government did allow government supporters to gather at the same park.

Opposition leaders have insisted all morning that the march would be peaceful, though many have insisted that they will proceed past the barricade to defend their constitutional right to protest.

The opposition hopes to alert the G-15 and international community about rights violations by the pro-Chavez electoral authorities, who earlier this week decided to put into question over 1,480,000 opposition collected signatures for a recall referendum. Under the constitution, 2.4 million signatures were required to invoke the referendum. Without 1.5 million signatures, Chavez would remain in power until 2006.

Most presidents attending the summit have taken a lukewarm stance towards the growing crisis. President Kirschner said that while Argentina was closely observing the situation, “I do not like to offer opinions on the internal situation of brother countries.” Amid harsh criticisms in the Brazilian press for attending the summit, President Lula will leave Caracas tonight, instead of Saturday at the Summit’s closure.

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