CARACAS, Venezuela – A top opponent of President Hugo Chavez demanded the release of jailed protesters Wednesday as university students poured into the streets for a third day to protest the removal of a leading opposition TV station from the air.
Former presidential candidate Manuel Rosales said protests over the government's move to halt the broadcasts of Radio Caracas Television show that "freedom cannot be negotiated nor bargained."
Police detained an opposition leader, Oscar Perez, Wednesday afternoon as he came from a meeting to organize another protest for this weekend.
"I don't know under what criteria they are detaining me," Perez told Globovision by telephone from a police station. Officials did not immediately comment on the arrest.
Protesters have filled the capital's plazas and streets since the opposition-aligned channel went off the air at midnight Sunday. Chavez refused to renew its broadcast license — accusing it of helping incite a failed coup in 2002 and violating broadcast laws — and police have clashed with angry crowds hurling rocks and bottles.
A total of 182 people — mostly university students and minors — have been detained in nearly 100 protests since Sunday, Justice Minister Pedro Carreno said late Tuesday. At least 30 were charged with violent acts, prosecutors said, but it was unclear how many remained behind bars.
"Freedom for those young men and women, immediately. They should not be treated like criminals," said Rosales, the governor of western Zulia state who was handily defeated by Chavez in December elections.
He said protesters are demanding not only free speech but also the right to protest "peacefully and democratically."
Rosales noted that a home video broadcast on the Globovision network showed unidentified men in the doorway of a government office — apparently Chavez allies — firing guns at unseen targets. "For that there is no justice?" he said.
As he spoke, roughly 8,000 student protesters chanting "freedom!" marched toward the offices of the People's Defender, a government official in charge of monitoring human rights. Marchers stopped at a police barricade, while several leaders delivered a protest letter to authorities at the office.
"The students are taking a stand, but not to oust the government or cause chaos as some allege," student leader John Goicochea said.
Although the march was generally peaceful, there were several small scuffles between students and "Chavistas" who approached the demonstrators, jeering and shouting insults.
On Tuesday, Chavez warned he might crack down on the privately owned Globovision.
Government officials claim Globovision encouraged 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.
Globovision director Alberto Federico Ravell denied wrongdoing, calling the allegations "ridiculous." Globovision replayed footage of the assassination attempt during a retrospective of news events covered by RCTV during its 53 years on the air.
Separately on Wednesday, about 1,000 government opponents protested outside Venezuela's Air Force Command headquarters in downtown Caracas, banging on pots while shouting: "Soldiers, listen! Unite with the struggle!"
"We don't want a totalitarian country. We have the right to defend our freedom," said office worker Virginia Montilla, 46.