Fri, Nov 23, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Chavez supporters rally for constitutional change

AP , CARACAS

Tens of thousands of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's supporters filled the streets to back his proposed constitutional changes, while anti-government student leaders announced a bold plan to march on the presidential palace.

The demonstrations have grown as a Dec. 2 referendum nears on reforms that, among the changes, would let Chavez run for re-election indefinitely, lengthen presidential terms from six to seven years and create new types of property to be managed by cooperatives.

The sea of red-clad demonstrators, including students and other government supporters, marched on Wednesday to the Miraflores presidential palace to show their support for the constitutional overhaul, beating drums, waving flags and blowing whistles.

"Here is the demonstration that the students are with the revolution!" Chavez told the crowd from a stage outside the palace. "A solid Venezuelan revolutionary student movement has been born!"

At a separate rally in Caracas, university students who have led a street-level challenge to the president announced plans for their own march to the palace on Monday, for the first time since 2002.

"We're going to Miraflores too!" student leader Ricardo Sanchez shouted to the crowd, which repeated chants of "To Miraflores!"

The government has maintained a security zone around the palace and has not permitted opposition protests in the area since 2002, when gunfire broke out during a march headed for Miraflores and 19 people were killed. The violence came shortly before Chavez's brief ouster in a coup.

He was restored two days later by military loyalists while crowds of his backers protested in the streets.

Chavez warned the crowd to watch for trouble.

"We have the pro-imperialist oligarchy desperate," Chavez said. "On alert, everybody in the street. The oligarchy is trying to destabilize the country, they're trying to generate violence. They aren't going to be able to."

Chavez supporter Osman Sanchez, a 32-year-old studying at a free state-run university, called the plan for a march on the palace ``a provocation.''

"They're trying to heat up the streets," he said. "We aren't going to fall into the game of violence. What we want is peace."

Some pro-Chavez marchers said they particularly like one proposed reform that would give students and university workers the power to choose administrators by direct vote.

Chavez called it a change to "take out the embedded elites who took over many of our universities."

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