CARACAS, Venezuela – President Hugo Chavez defended his decision not to renew the license of a popular opposition-aligned television network on Tuesday and warned he might crack down on another critical TV station, accusing it of trying to incite attempts on his life.
Chavez said his refusal to renew the license of Radio Caracas Television, which went off the air at midnight Sunday, is "a sovereign, legitimate decision in which there is no argument."
He said the remaining opposition-sided channel Globovision had encouraged attempts on his life and warned that if it wants "to continue calling for disobedience, inciting assassination ... I'm going to warn them before the nation... I recommend they take a tranquilizer, that they slow down, because if not, I'm going to slow them down."
Chavez did not elaborate, but also warned that radio stations should not be inciting violence by "manipulating feelings" among the populace.
Thousands of Venezuelans — both Chavez supporters and opponents — staged separate marches in Caracas on Tuesday. The Chavez opponents chanted "freedom!" while government supporters said they were in the streets to reject an opposition attempt to stir up violence.
Information Minister Willian Lara on Monday accused Globovision of encouraging an attempt on Chavez's life by broadcasting the chorus of a salsa tune — "Have faith, this doesn't end here" — along with footage of the 1981 assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square.
"They incite the assassination of Venezuela's president," he said.
Globovision director Alberto Federico Ravell denied any wrongdoing, calling the allegations "ridiculous."
The government turned over RCTV's license to a new state-funded public channel, which showed a documentary on explorers in Antarctica, a children's program and exercise programs, interspersed with government ads repeating the slogan "Venezuela now belongs to everyone."
On Monday in Caracas, Venezuelan police fired tear gas and plastic bullets into a crowd of up to 5,000 protesters. The protesters later regrouped in the Plaza Brion chanting "freedom!" Some tossed rocks and bottles at police, prompting authorities to scatter demonstrators by firing more gas.
It was the largest of several protests that broke out across Caracas. At least three people and one policemen were reported injured in the skirmishes.
Interior Minister Pedro Carreno told state-run television that four students were wounded by gunfire during a pro-RCTV protest staged near a university in the city of Valencia, located 93 miles west of Caracas. It was not immediately clear who the assailants were or if they were arrested.
Government supporters reveled in the streets as they watched the midnight changeover on large TV screens, seeing RCTV's signal go black and then be replaced by a TVES logo. Others launched fireworks and danced in the streets.
Chavez says he is democratizing the airwaves by turning the network's signal over to public use.
The president accused the network of helping to incite a failed coup in 2002, violating broadcast laws and "poisoning" Venezuelans with programming that promoted capitalism. RCTV's managers deny wrongdoing.
Founded in 1953, RCTV was the nation's oldest private channel and regularly topped viewer ratings with its talk shows, sports, soap operas and comedy programs.