Chavez critics protest secrecy
CARACAS — Hundreds of pro-opposition students and other critics of Hugo Chavez's government marched in Caracas on Sunday to demand proof that the cancer-stricken Venezuelan leader is still alive and governing.
The crowd, including various leaders at the more militant end of the Democratic Unity opposition coalition, sang protest songs and waved banners as they rallied in a central neighborhood on a sweltering morning.
“Give us the truth!” and “Stop lying!” read banners.
Underlining the deep political polarization of the South American nation of 29 million people during Chavez's 14-year rule, hundreds of pro-government students also held a rally in support of the president and his ministers.
With Chavez unseen — apart from one set of photos — since cancer surgery in December, Ven- ezuelans are on edge waiting for developments amid a sea of rumors.
Officials say Chavez is in a Caracas military hospital after returning from Cuba two weeks ago, battling for his life. Though he is breathing via a tracheal tube, unable to speak, and undergoing chemotherapy, the president continues to rule via written and other communications, they say.
Opponents, though, accuse Vice President Nicolas Maduro and others of lying about Chavez's condition. And there have been media and Internet accounts that Chavez may have died — all emphatically denied by the government.
“They are violating the constitution. Venezuela has no authorities right now. President Chavez is sick. He hasn't said a word in two months. He cannot govern,” said protester Maria Montero, a 56-year-old teacher.
“We want impartial spokesmen to give us information about Chavez, real doctors, not politicians,” added Maria Mendoza, 54, who works for the state oil company PDVSA, at the opposition march.
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