"What is happening here is simply the silencing of a television station," Gledys Ibarra, a soap opera actress, said.

 

The government is not renewing RCTV's licence after 53 years on the air because of accusations that the broadcaster participated in a bungled 2002 coup against Chavez, incited violent demonstrations and aired immoral programming.

Opposition voice

 

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"Critics condemned the decision for silencing an influential opposition voice"

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Critics condemned the decision for silencing an influential opposition voice and called the move evidence that Chavez's self-styled socialist revolution is concentrating power and muzzling the opposition.

Miguel Angel Rodriguez, RCTV journalist, told Al Jazeera: "Chavez is trying to show the world that here in Venezuela he can to whatever he pleases, and not only to the press, but to everybody that he wants to silence."

But RCTV's news director during the coup attempt told Al Jazeera that he believes that Chavez is doing the right thing.


"Destabilisation is when you broadcast military men dressed in military fatigues wearing ski masks and bearing weapons asking people to rebel against a democratically elected government," Andres Izarra, now head of the state sponsored network Telesur, said.

"That's a very clear case of destabilisation not criticism." 

 

On Friday, Venezuela's highest court ordered the military to seize control of some of the TV station's installations and equipment in a show of force that included mobilisation of anti-riot vehicles to prevent protests from turning violent.

 

President's warning


Chavez on Saturday reiterated warnings to his political foes not to foment violent demonstrations, following weeks of government accusations that opposition leaders were preparing to "destabilise" the government.

 

Chavez said: "If your even think of creating violence, you will regret it, gentlemen of the Venezuelan oligarchy and your masters in the North American empire."

 

RCTV said in a statement the court decision constituted a "kidnapping of equipment," but assured it would stop broadcasting before midnight on Sunday in compliance with government orders.

 

Late on Friday, a group of demonstrators shouting pro-Chavez slogans spray-painted the headquarters of Globovision, the country's last openly anti-government station, which Chavez has also threatened to take off the air for its critical coverage.

 

The restrictions on RCTV drew heavy international criticism including a US senate resolution last week unanimously condemning "transgression of freedom of thought and expression" in Venezuela.