Venezuelan Troops Seize Police Station, Tensions Rise Between Chavez and Opposition Officials

Dozens of National Guard troops seized control of a police station controlled by a leading opponent of President Hugo Chavez on Wednesday, adding to tensions between Venezuela's government and elected opposition officials.

About 40 National Guard troops tossed tear gas canisters at a police precinct post in the town of Curiepe, east of Caracas, shortly before dawn, said Elisio Guzman, director of the Miranda state police. He said the officers inside were forced to leave and the National Guard occupied the building.

Guzman said the motive behind the takeover was unclear and national government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

"They started launching tear gas without mediating, without speaking with anyone," Guzman said in a telephone interview. He said he ordered officers under his command to stand down, telling them to "avoid any conflict."

At least six people were hurt, including two who were wounded and four who required treatment after inhaling tear gas, Guzman told the Venezuelan television station Globovision.

Troops shot plastic bullets at demonstrators who protested the takeover, said Adriana D'Elia, a representative of Miranda's state government.

A television cameraman working for the channel RCTV was among those injured, requiring five stitches on his face, she said.

Guzman said the National Guard troops carried out "waves of attacks" against residents who turned out to protest. "This should stop somehow," he told the Globovision network, calling it an "illegal takeover" by troops.

On Tuesday, National Guard troops seized another state police station in Miranda, which includes part of Caracas and surrounding areas to the south and east. Four people suffered minor injuries during the standoff in the town of Caucagua, Guzman said.

Tensions between Chavez's government and Miranda Gov. Henrique Capriles have been brewing since the opposition politician defeated an incumbent ruling party candidate in elections last year.