Mon, Oct 09, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Thousands march to support Venezuelan opposition candidate

AP , CARACAS

Thousands marched in the biggest show of public support yet for Venezuela's main opposition presidential candidate, who pledged to undo what he called the "manifold ills" of President Hugo Chavez's government.

Manuel Rosales, governor of oil-rich Zulia State, cast his event Saturday as an "opposition avalanche" as hordes of supporters converged in downtown Caracas waving Venezuelan flags and pounding on drums.

Rosales accused the government of mismanaging the country's oil wealth and ignoring crime, while also playing on fears that Chavez's close friendship with Cuban leader Fidel Castro was leading Venezuela down the same path as the communist island.

"They say the Venezuelan people rule -- that's a lie," said Rosales. "[We have] a government that is a puppet of a communist, totalitarian system ... We have a government that is governing from Cuba."

"This government is already eight years old. It's an old, bad, lying government, and it must go on Dec. 3," Rosales said amid cheers.

Venezuelan authorities said they would have as many as 2,500 officers on the streets to ensure security amid concerns about violence as Rosales' supporters traversed sectors of the capital that are pro-Chavez.

A government helicopter flew overhead and a heavy police presence was on hand, but there were no reports of disturbances.

Caracas' metropolitan police estimated the crowd at about 9,000, and reporters on the scene estimated the turnout at more than 10,000. The crowd packed full a 3km avenue.

"I'm marching for a different future, for better education," said Julia Pena, a 50-year-old teacher, who came out to show her support for the opposition for the first time since April 2002, when a brief coup toppled Chavez before he returned amid a popular uprising.

Rosales slammed the Chavez government's record on crime, claiming that murders, kidnappings and other crimes in the South American country have sharply risen since Chavez took office in 1999 -- an issue that recent polls show is a top concern among Venezuelans.

He also accused Chavez of giving away millions of dollars in aid, while many Venezuelans remain impoverished.

"There is a paradox in this country: poor people and a very rich government," he said.

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