Venezuela's Chavez returns to power


CARACAS, Venezuela, April 14 -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez formally reassumed the presidency early Sunday after he returned to the capital in the aftermath of a fail coup against him by army commanders.

Chavez formally resumed his presidential powers in a televised ceremony at the Miraflores Presidential Palace in the capital, Caracas.


Earlier, a helicopter carrying Chavez landed near the palace after bringing him from the Caribbean island of Orchilla, where he had been detained.

The surprise return of Chavez came after interim leader Pedro Carmona, who on Friday led the interim government that ousted Chavez, announced his resignation Saturday in the face of massive street protests and the loss of military support.

At least three people were killed in Caracas, and at least 18 wounded in demonstrations Saturday, doctors and humanitarian workers said Sunday.

Carmona and other members of the interim government are now under military custody.


Vice President Diosdado Cabello was sworn in as president late Saturday, but held the office only until Chavez returned to the country. Upon his return, Chavez was greeted by thousands of his supporters in the streets outside the presidential palace.

After being formally reinstated, Chavez in a televised address thanked his supporters and appealed for calm.

"It is time for us to set our house in order," he said. "I call for unity in Venezuela ... I call on the Catholic Church, the Protestant Church, all the religions, I call on the business community, the union leaders and especially the media."

He said he never resigned his office while being held by the Venezuelan military.

"True, they asked me to resign, to sign a paper. I told them 'no,' I am a president prisoner," he said. "I never thought we would be able to return so quickly."

Chavez also announced the creation of a number of "national dialogue round tables."

"We want to listen to criticism if it is present in a loyal and honest spirit," the president said.

Chavez, who won a landslide election victory in 1998, was removed from office early on Friday after military leaders blamed him for the deaths of at least 13 people in violent anti-government protests in the capital.


The country had been in the middle of a national strike, triggered by workers at the state-owned oil firm PDVSA. The workers were angry at the appointment of Chavez supporters to the company's board.

In his televised address, the president also announced that the directors of PDVSA had stepped down in order to "open a path to talks." Chavez promised that "no one will brush the oil workers aside."

Carmona, 60, lost support of the military after dissolving the National Assembly. He was forced to reverse his decision after armed forces chief Gen. Efrain Vasquez said he would only support Carmona if the Congress was restored.

He was also forced to suspend the inauguration of his new cabinet.

The Carmona government also dismissed the Supreme Court and called for new elections within a year.

It is still not clear whether Gen. Vasquez will now support President Chavez.

Despite a question of military support for his administration, Chavez's return was welcomed Sunday by Libya and Iraq.

Libyan leader Col. Moammar Qadhafi phoned Chavez to congratulate him for his safe return and to express the solidarity of the Libyan people.

Chavez told Qadhafi his victory "was made possible by the Venezuelan people and the young officer who proved their capability to defeat imperialism."


In Baghdad, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tarek Aziz congratulated Chavez and said his return was "proof that imperialist conspiracies will fail whether in Venezuela or any other country in the world."

Chavez, who was the first head of state to Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War, returned to Baghdad in August 2000 for talks with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and to invite him to a meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in Caracas.NEWLN: Content: 11006000 16003000 16007000 16008000

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