CARACAS (AFP) – Angry Venezuelan protesters and journalists on Sunday headed for a showdown with the government of President Hugo Chavez, which is about to take over the country’s largest private television station.
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RCTV is set to end its broadcasts at midnight Sunday after the government refused to renew its license.
But employees have vowed to continued to occupy the studios overnight, possibly to hinder their handover to the government on Monday.
“A lot of us will sleep here in the station,” said news director Manuel Gago.
“This is Venezuela, not Cuba!” chanted protesters rallying outside RCTV studios Saturday. “We have what it takes to fight!”
The rally was reminiscent of protests that led to Chavez’s two-day ouster in a 2002 coup, for which he partly blames RCTV.
Chavez has not forgotten RCTV’s cheerleading for that brief coup, and vowed soon after he was re-elected in late 2006 to close the station down.
“The decision was mine,” to close it, he said, calling its steamy soaps “a danger for the country, for boys, for girls.”
Chavez asked Venezuelans for calm during a speech in Barquisimeto, 300 kilometers (250 miles) west of the capital and warned of a tough response from the military if the protests turn violent.
“I call on the country lest anyone be provoked or any group lend itself to creating chaos,” Chavez said.
“Venezuelan armed forces are ready,” Chavez said. “Anyone generating violence will regret it.”
Chavez has gradually tightened his grip on the levers of power in Venezuela, and in January the National Assembly allowed him to rule by decree, without legislative debate.
Telecommunications Minister Jesse Chacon said the station’s staff “know that the license has run out and should by now have taken measures.”
On Monday, Chavez will relaunch the channel as a public service station, rechristened TVes, with four million dollars of government start-up money.
Then, the government will control two of the four nationwide broadcast channels in Venezuela.
Venezuelan journalists and international human rights advocates criticized the move, as did Peruvian President Alan Garcia. “We respect freedom of expression and of the press … which we feel are the oxygen of democracy,” he said.
The broadcaster filed charges Saturday with the Inter American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States.
“We have filed suit before the commission against Venezuela for violating the freedom of speech,” RCTV vice president Oswaldo Quintana told AFP.
A unanimous US Senate resolution earlier expressed “profound concern” over Chavez’s decision.
Although Venezuela is a key supplier of US oil, Chavez has had a rocky relationship with US
Late Friday Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled that RCTV must temporarily leave its equipment and broadcast infrastructure in military hands when it goes off the air to guarantee that TVes would provide quality service.
The antennas, broadcast equipment, transmission towers and such will remain RCTV property, the court said, and ordered the military to temporarily take custody of the equipment and sites.
An RCTV statement called the move “unconstitutional and illegal.”
(Caracas, Venezuela – AP, May 27, 2007) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has pulled the plug on the nation’s most widely watched TV station.
The station is going off the air tonight at midnight, after the socialist president refused to renew its broadcast license.Chavez calls the station a “threat to the country.”
The channel’s top executive says the decision is a “turn toward totalitarianism.” And opponents are calling it an assault on free speech.
In 2002, the station broadcast opposition calls for protests to overthrow Chavez, and largely ignored coverage of his return to power.
The station — which critics accuse of regularly showing too much sex and violence — will become a public service channel.