Organization of American States head meets with Chavez

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

CARACAS, Venezuela -- As signs of opposition to President Hugo Chavez resurfaced Tuesday, the chief of the Western Hemisphere's top diplomatic body urged Venezuelans to express dissent lawfully -- not through coups such as the botched one last weekend.

Cesar Gaviria, secretary general of the Organization of American States, met with Chavez and opposition figures two days after the elected president returned to power following a week of deadly tumult and a 48-hour ouster.

Gaviria later called for reconciliation between the fiery leader's supporters and his foes. "Polarization has to give way to reconciliation and understanding."

But the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers -- which led a nationwide strike last week that gave momentum to the upheaval -- called for a referendum on whether Chavez's government should stay, and the opposition Democratic Action party said it did not recognize the government.

'Not one step back!'

Hundreds of Chavez foes held a memorial service for those who died in a protest last year, shouting, "Not one step back! Out!"

The criticism came after a brief period of chastened silence from Chavez's opponents and served as a reminder of the rifts that led to the unrest, which left dozens of demonstrators dead.

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch demanded Venezuela investigate the killings. The OAS plans a General Assembly session Thursday on Venezuela's crisis.

Friday's coup -- reversed when Chavez, the elected president, was reinstated by loyalist military officers Sunday -- was condemned by many Latin American leaders, and the United States joined an OAS declaration authorizing Gaviria's mission.

Washington on Monday welcomed Chavez's apparent call for reconciliation, though it had also warned him his government he had been given a rare second chance for "correcting its course and governing in a fully democratic manner."

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