Venezuela poll rivals hold mass rallies

Inquiry launched into deaths of political activists as surveys predict tight race between president and challenger.

A huge crowd has filled the streets of Venezuela’s capital cheering the opposition candidate, waving flags in a show of support one week before the country’s tightly contested presidential election.

Henrique Capriles waved from a lorry that rolled through the vast expanse of supporters in Caracas on Sunday.

The crowd overflowed from Bolivar Avenue, the widest thoroughfare in the city’s business district, which according to some estimates has a capacity to hold about 260,000 people.

The authorities did not provide a crowd estimate.

“Bolivar Avenue is too small for us,” Capriles shouted to the crowd, which was the largest of any opposition gathering in recent years.

While President Hugo Chavez led a rally with tens of thousands of supporters in western Zulia state on Sunday, authorities were investigating the killings of two men in a shooting that erupted elsewhere during an opposition campaign caravan on Saturday.

Capriles condemned the killings, which occurred in the western Barinas state, telling his supporters: “Yesterday, sadly, violence took three lives, something that should never have happened.

“I want to tell their families, and those angels in heaven, that we are going to defeat violence on the 7th of October.”

Capriles said Venezuela “is tired of the violence, of the division, of the confrontation. … The time of hatred is going to be buried in Venezuela”.

Suspect not identified

Tareck El Aissami, Venezuela’s justice minister, said in a message on Twitter that a suspect was arrested in the killings, but he did not immediately identify him.

“There are reasons for many people to be dissatisfied with this government that I lead … On October 7, it isn’t at stake whether the light went out or not… whether they’ve given me a house or not”

– Hugo Chavez,
Venezuelan president

Julio Cesar Reyes, an opposition politician, said on Saturday that a group of Chavez’s supporters blocked the caravan and people on both sides were arguing when an armed appeared and started shooting.

Opposition officials said both men killed were participants in the motorcade of Capriles supporters.

One video posted on YouTube showed the two groups arguing on a street when shots rang out and people ran for cover.

Violence has erupted previously during the campaign for the October 7 vote, but these were the first deaths.

Addressing the crowd in Caracas, Capriles criticised Chavez – who has been in power more than 13 years – for what he called a long list of unfulfilled promises, noting that years ago the president pledged to clean up the sewage-filled Guaire River in Caracas and it remains badly polluted.

“Where’s the clean-up? Pure chatter,” Capriles told the crowd.

He criticised what he called gifts by Chavez’s government to other countries, and read out a list including a donation to a Puerto Rican music group, a hospital in Uruguay and prefabricated homes in Guatemala.

Capriles’ supporters converged on the demonstration by marching down several avenues, blowing horns and whistles.

Some chanted: “We see it, we feel it, Capriles president!”

Chavez rallied thousands of supporters during weekend street events in Guarenas, a town east of Caracas, and in Zulia state.

People grabbed at red T-shirts that were thrown into the crowd. Some stood on rooftops cheering, and women screamed as Chavez passed.

‘Self-criticism’ important

While Chavez touted his achievements during his speech, he also said “self-criticism” is important and acknowledged that problems including a housing shortage and sporadic blackouts remain.

“There are reasons for many people to be dissatisfied with this government that I lead,” Chavez told the crowd. But, he added: “On October 7, it isn’t at stake whether the light went out or not… whether they’ve given me a house or not.”

“Those are very important problems and we’re working to solve them,” Chavez said. “My socialist government is going to continue solving our big problems.”

Separately, he told the privately held Televen television network on Sunday that if he were a US citizen, he would vote for President Barack Obama in the November 6 US presidential election – and if Obama were Venezuelan, he would vote for Chavez.

“If I were from the United States, I’d vote for Obama,” Chavez said, adding that If Obama came from a working-class Caracas neighbourhood, he would “vote for Chavez”.

“Obama recently said something very rational and just: Venezuela is not a threat to the interests of the United States,” Chavez said, calling Obama a “nice guy”.

Chavez, by contrast, described Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s “extreme right-wing” proposals as “a truly irrational thing”.

If both he and Obama win their re-elections, Chavez said, he hoped the two countries “could begin a new period of normal relations”.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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