Students in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, painted their palms white and raised them as a sign of peace when met by crowds of Chavez supporters.
 

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Nicolas Maduro, the foreign minister, called the protesters "students of the Venezuelan upper class", used by opposition parties and media owners.

One student said: "We're protesting not only for one channel, but for what it represents – for free speech."

 

Chavez said that the students were "victims of manipulation", representing the interests of US "imperialism".

 

"When the press comes, they go running and get on their knees in front of police who aren't doing anything to them. They get on their knees and raise their hands. It's a show." he said.

 

Weakening democracy

 

RCTV, an opposition-aligned channel, was forced off the air May 27 by Chavez's decision not renew its license. Since then, demonstrations have spread to universities nationwide.

 

Thousands have turned out to support
Chavez this week [AFP]
On Sunday Venezuela's ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS) defended the decision not to renew RCTV's license, saying the station had "infringed" on democratic principles.

 

Jorge Valero told diplomats in Pamana, where the OAS is holding a general assembly meeting, that Venezuela was "at the forefront of the defence of freedom of expression".

 

Jose Miguel Insulza, OAS Secretary General, told delegates: "If a government is silencing opponents, excludes them from the political process and resorts to repression, it embarks on a path toward certain weakening of democratic rule."

 

Thousands of demonstrators have also spoken out against government ombudsman, German Mundarain, who endorsed Chavez's move on Friday.

 

He suggested there was a link between protesting students and parties who might be trying to overthrow Chavez.