THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times
May 31, 2007
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- The Carter Center called for dialogue Thursday between President Hugo Chavez and opponents protesting his decision to force an opposition TV channel off the air, while calm returned to the streets after three days of demonstrations.
The Atlanta-based organization founded by former President Jimmy Carter expressed concern about the potential for escalating violence after the government halted broadcasts by Radio Caracas Television on Sunday. Police have repeatedly clashed with angry crowds hurling rocks and bottles since Chavez refused to renew the station's broadcast license.
''Healthy democracies require spaces for political dialogue and debate to allow divisions about the future direction of the country to be addressed in peaceful ways,'' the Carter Center said.
In parts of Caracas, meanwhile, Venezuelans walked to work along sidewalks littered with rocks and debris from the protests.
Opposition leader Manuel Rosales on Wednesday demanded the release of dozens of students jailed during clashes between protesters and police.
Rosales -- the governor of western Zulia state who was defeated by Chavez in December elections -- said protesters are demanding not only free speech but also the right to protest ''peacefully and democratically.''
He noted that a home video broadcast on the Globovision network showed unidentified men in the doorway of a government office, apparently Chavez allies, firing guns at unseen targets. ''For that there is no justice?'' he asked.
As he spoke, about 8,000 student protesters chanting ''freedom!'' marched through Caracas. Although the march was generally peaceful, there were several scuffles between students and Chavez supporters.
The Carter Center, which has observed past elections here, said it is concerned that ''non-renewal of broadcast concessions for political reasons will have a chilling effect on free speech.''
''A plurality of opinions should be protected,'' it said. ''The right of dissent must be fiercely defended by every democratic government.''
Chavez accused RCTV of helping incite a failed coup in 2002 and violating various broadcast laws. He said his decision to replace it with a new state-funded public channel, TVES, was a step toward ''democratizing'' the airwaves.