Sunday, July 13, 2008


Thousands of Venezuelans protested in the capital Caracas to demand the Supreme Court overturn a “blacklist” blocking key opponents of President Hugo Chavez from running in elections.

Chanting: “Freedom!” and waving Venezuelan flags, the demonstrators marched to the court, where they urged justices to strike down the list.

“We cannot allow our civil rights to be trampled upon,” said Veronica Pino, a 35-year-old secretary who held a sign reading: “Restrictions, No! Constitution, Yes!”

Unveiled in February by the country’s top anti-corruption official, the list disqualifies 272 politicians - most of them aligned with the opposition - from participating in November’s state and municipal elections.

Comptroller General Clodosbaldo Russian, a close Chavez ally, argues that Venezuelan law allows him to impose the restrictions on potential candidates suspected of corruption.

Opposition leaders say the ban violates Venezuela’s constitution, which upholds the political rights of all citizens unless they have been charged with a crime and sentenced by a court. None of those on the list has been formally sentenced.

Venezuela’s Roman Catholic Church joined the mounting criticism this week, calling the list “a measure that tarnishes the democratic environment”.

More than a dozen members of the 1999 assembly that drafted the current constitution, including Mr Chavez’s ex-wife Marisabel Rodriguez, accuse Mr Russian of breaking the law.

The comptroller general was “illegally excluding those who don’t share the president’s socialist agenda”, she said during the march, where she was mobbed by supporters. Mr Chavez has backed Mr Russian.

“Now they accuse him of following my orders. No, they are not my orders,” Mr Chavez said on Friday at a rally. The protesters “should be ashamed of themselves” for defending candidates suspected of corruption, many of whom should be in prison, he added.

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