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Venezuela peace talks delayed by protests

©Associated Press
February 27, 2003

CARACAS, Venezuela -- A march by thousands of antigovernment protesters forced the suspension of talks aimed at ending Venezuela's political turmoil Wednesday, while the U.S. Embassy beefed up security because of "credible" threats.

Marching just days after the arrest of a leader of a crippling two-month strike, the demonstrators dared President Hugo Chavez's government to jail them, waving placards reading "Chavez, your mask is off, dictator!" and "Put us all in prison!"

Talks between government and opposition delegates were scheduled to begin Wednesday, but the marchers' route passed by the negotiations venue, forcing their rescheduling until today.

Protest leader Carlos Fernandez has been ordered under house arrest to face rebellion and other charges for leading the 63-day general strike against Chavez. Police are searching for strike co-leader and labor boss Carlos Ortega.

The protesters marched past the Fedecamaras business chamber, of which Fernandez is president, and ended at the labor confederation headquarters where Ortega is president.

The U.S. Embassy closed Wednesday after receiving "credible information of a threat to its security," a statement said. The closure came a day after two bombs blasted Colombian and Spanish diplomatic missions, injuring four and generating fears that the nation's political crisis was entering a more violent phase.

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