Chavez marks anniversary of coup attempt

Wednesday, February 5, 2003

CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez celebrated Tuesday's anniversary of a 1992 coup attempt that launched his political career while opposition leaders trying to oust him mourned those killed in the botched putsch.

Under international pressure to end Venezuela's political crisis, Chavez's government rejected an opposition proposal to shorten his presidential term and instead suggested a referendum on his rule -- though it would take place far later than the opposition wants.

About 20 Chavez supporters briefly attacked the offices of Caracas' opposition mayor with gunfire, rocks and slingshots after a ceremony marking the Feb. 4, 1992, coup bid against President Carlos Andres Perez.

Five people were hurt by rocks and marbles flung by slingshots, said Ramon Muchacho, head of security for Mayor Alfredo Pena. National guard troops dispersed the "chavistas" with tear gas.

'National jubilee'

Chavez has declared Feb. 4 a day of "national jubilee," but few observed it as millions returned to work at the end of a 66-day-old strike that failed to force Chavez's ouster.

According to Provea, an independent human rights group, 17 soldiers and more than 80 civilians were killed during the 1992 coup led by Chavez, then an army paratroop commander. Fifty-one troops were wounded.

Chavez was jailed for two years, then embarked on a quest that led him to the presidency in 1998 on an anti-poverty platform.

He was re-elected to a six-year term in 2000.

"February 4th wasn't a coup," Chavez said Tuesday.

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