May 30, 2007
A top opponent of President Hugo Chavez demanded the release of jailed protesters Wednesday as university students poured into the streets for a third day to protest the removal of a leading opposition TV station from the air.
Former presidential candidate Manuel Rosales said protests over the government's move to halt the broadcasts of Radio Caracas Television show that "freedom cannot be negotiated nor bargained."
Protesters have filled the capital's plazas and streets since the opposition-aligned channel went off the air at midnight Sunday. Chavez refused to renew its broadcast license, and police have clashed with angry crowds hurling rocks and bottles.
A total of 182 people _ mostly university students and minors _ have been detained in nearly 100 protests since Sunday, Justice Minister Pedro Carreno said late Tuesday. At least 30 were charged with violent acts, prosecutors said, but it was unclear how many remained behind bars.
"Freedom for those young men and women, immediately. They should not be treated like criminals," said Rosales, the governor of western Zulia state who was handily defeated by Chavez in December elections.
"I know that Radio Caracas will return to the air," Rosales said. He said protesters are demanding not only free speech but also the right to protest "peacefully and democratically."
As he spoke, roughly 8,000 student protesters chanting "freedom!" marched toward the offices of the People's Defender, a government official in charge of monitoring human rights. Marchers stopped at a police barricade, while several leaders delivered a protest letter to authorities at the office.
"The students are taking a stand, but not to oust the government or cause chaos as some allege," student leader John Goicochea said.
Although the march was generally peaceful, there were several small scuffles between students and "Chavistas" who approached the demonstrators, jeering and shouting insults.
Some office workers in the business district tossed confetti out of their windows in support.
Chavez accused RCTV of helping incite a failed coup in 2002, violating broadcast laws and "poisoning" Venezuelans with soap operas and game shows that promoted capitalism. He said his decision to replace it Monday with a new state-funded public channel, TVES, is a step toward "democratizing" the airwaves.
Thousands of Chavez supporters marched Tuesday, saying they reject an opposition attempt to stir up a "guarimba" _ a term for protesters' makeshift barriers of trash and debris that refers to creating unrest aimed at overthrowing the government.