One student was killed and nine police officers injured on Monday in the city of Merida in violence linked to protests over the suspension of a TV station opposed to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Venezuelan cable providers, responding to government orders, stopped showing RCTV Internacional on Sunday. The station is critical of Chavez, who pushed its parent RCTV off free-access television in 2007.
Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami said late on Monday that 15-year-old Josino Jose Carrillo, a pro-Chavez high school student, was killed while participating in a demonstration in the Andean city of Merida.
“Unfortunately, several minutes ago a group of students that were protesting peacefully were attacked in a cowardly fashion, and this lamentable incident resulted in the assassination of a 15-year-old youth,” El Aissami said in televised comments.
He said nine police officers from the state of Merida were wounded in the student demonstrations, two of them with firearms.
Police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators in Caracas and other cities protesting the new suspension of RCTV, along with some other small stations, a move that was criticized by media freedom groups and the US government.
“Any time the government shuts down an independent network, that is an area of concern,” US State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley said.
Venezuela said Crowley “lied” when he said the stations had been closed, and that the suspension could be reversed if they comply with a new law requiring them to broadcast some of Chavez’s speeches, among other things.
“This is not an attack on the freedom of expression, it is an administrative sanction under the law,” said Bernardo Alvarez, Venezuela’s ambassador to Washington.
He said the suspension was not politically motivated.
Students from universities and schools in the capital marched with their hands painted white and tried to reach the offices of the government media regulator.
They were repelled by a small group of Chavez supporters and then chased off by police in riot gear who fired tear gas after a rock was thrown.
The students chanted the slogan “1,2,3, Chavez you struck out,” in reference to the president’s mounting problems in the baseball-mad nation with issues ranging from water and electricity shortages to an unpopular currency devaluation.
“We are here because of the violation of freedom of expression,” 17-year-old medical student Yanuan Pedraza said. “This is the second time they have closed RCTV.”
In 2007 Chavez denied RCTV a renewal of its broadcast license, accusing the station of participating in a 2002 coup.
During the coup, the network showed nonstop footage of anti-Chavez protests leading up to his brief ouster but turned cameras off when loyalists restored him.
The 2007 move against RCTV triggered large student-led protests that snowballed throughout the year and are widely seen as a factor in Chavez’s first-ever ballot box defeat in a referendum on allowing him to run again for office. He later won another referendum on the same issue.
The station soon reappeared on cable and continued its anti-government line and menu of popular soap operas.
“This move, condemned by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, reveals yet again the government’s allergic reaction to dissident voices within the country’s leading broadcast media,” Reporters Without Borders said on Monday.
Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza said he “lamented the situation” regarding the removal from the air of the stations and called on the government to allow the OAS to visit the country.
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