Clashes After Anti-Chavez TV Channel Removed

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Police and supporters of President Hugo Chavez clashed with students in cities across the country Monday during protests over the government forcing an opposition channel off cable TV. Two youths were reported killed and 16 people suffered injuries.

Merida Gov. Marcos Diaz says one of the victims was shot dead. The other was killed by an explosive amid clashes between police, anti-Chavez students and government supporters.

SLIDESHOW: Anti-Chavez TV Station Shut Down

The biggest confrontation occured in Caracas, where police fired tear gas and plastic bullets to scatter thousands of students who tried to march on the headquarters of Venezuela's state-run telecommunications agency. At least six demonstrators and a journalist were treated for injuries.

Diaz told the state-run ABN news agency that the shooting victim was a high school student named Jossimir Carrillo Torres. Nine police officers were injured in the melee, El Aissami said.

Demonstrations erupted over the government ordering cable companies to drop Radio Caracas Television Internacional early Sunday. RCTV had defied new rules requiring local cable channels to carry mandatory programming, including some of Chavez's speeches.

Police fired tear gas as protesting students tried to approach the headquarters of the state telecommunications agency, where several hud minor injures or breathing problems from tear gas during Monday protest in the capital, said Enrique Montbrun, director of health services in the capital's Baruta district. Caracas Police Chief Carlos Meza said a government supporter was hurt when hit in the face with a bottle or rock. A journalist working for AP Television News suffered minor head injuries from a hurled object.

Press freedom organizations and Roman Catholic leaders condemned RCTV's removal from cable, calling it part of a broader effort to mute government critics.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said the government's move is "an allergic reaction to dissident voices within the country's leading broadcast media."

Monsignor Roberto Luckert, a Catholic leader and vice president of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, said the action against RCTV curbs freedom of expression.

"The more media they close, the more democracy is curtailed," Luckert told the local TV channel Globovision.

U.S. State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley echoed earlier comments by the U.S. Embassy that Washington is concerned.

"Clearly, we think that a free and independent media is a vital element of any democracy. And any time the government shuts down an independent network, that is an area of concern," he said. "We have raised this issue with the Venezuelans."

OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza offered himself as a mediator in the conflict between Chavez and the media, and he urged Venezuela's government to authorize a visit from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

"We don't need a mediator," said Cabello, the telecommunications regulator.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.