Venezuela's Interim President Resigns

Venezuela's interim president resigned Saturday — a day after taking office — in the face of protests by thousands of supporters of the ousted president, Hugo Chavez.

"Before the nation, before the Venezuelan people, I present this resignation," Pedro Carmona told Union Radio.

Thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets earlier Saturday — some taking over state TV — demanding that ousted Chavez be returned to power.

Carmona said he was handing over power to the National Assembly, but Chavez's vice president, Diosdado Cabello, went on Union Radio to say he was acting president until Chavez returns to power. He was shown being sworn in on television.

Labor Minister Maria Christina Iglesias had said on state TV that Chavez was about to be flown out of the country by a military plane from Orchila Island off the Venezuelan coast.

Earlier in the day, with control of the military appearing to unravel, Carmona postponed inaugurating his Cabinet.

The military of oil-rich Venezuela forced Chavez out on Friday after demonstrations against him. Some commanders refused to accept the appointment of Carmona, head of Fedecameras, Venezuela's largest business association.

Tens of thousands of Chavez supporters surged toward the presidential palace as night fell Saturday, demanding Chavez's return.

Chavez backers took over state TV and went on air to insist that Chavez was still president, applauding the "peaceful insurrection in the streets" that called for his return. Juan Barreto, parliamentary deputy in Chavez's party, called the new government "fascist" and urged that the protests continue.

"The tyrant has been deposed," Barreto said, referring to Carmona. He said Chavez would not quit, even as he remained in military custody.

Police drove back smaller groups of protesters from the presidential palace with tear gas earlier on Saturday, and gunfire was heard in the nearby Catia slum, a Chavez stronghold.

"We want to see Chavez. The Venezuelan people don't buy it that he has resigned," shouted Maria Brito, a 36-year-old demonstrator.

As the massive crowd approached the palace at nightfall, there was no tear gas, and soldiers on a nearby roof urged the demonstrators on by pumping their fists and waving Venezuelan flags and their red berets, a symbol of Chavez's rule.

Bowing to demands by restive army commanders, Carmona said Saturday that Chavez will be allowed to leave the country and promised to reinstate the country's National Assembly, which he dissolved on Friday after being sworn in.

The army commander, Gen. Efrain Vasquez, made the demands at a news conference at a base on the outskirts of Caracas. The army "is doing what's necessary to immediately correct the errors committed in this transition process," Vasquez said.

Chavez, a former army paratroop colonel who led a failed 1992 coup but was elected in 1998 on an anti-poverty platform, was being detained. Barreto, speaking on state TV, said Chavez "is kidnapped right now on Orchila Island" and that several military bases across the nation are under control of pro-Chavez forces.

He urged the dissolved National Assembly to report to the TV station and said Chavez's Cabinet was in the presidential palace with Cabello.

"Very soon we will have President Hugo Chavez directing, once again, affairs of state in Venezuela," Iglesias said. She called for the military high command and Carmona to meet with Chavez's forces.

Carmona, during an earlier interview with the CNN en Espanol, said Chavez was well and would soon leave Venezuela for an unspecified destination. He also acknowledged that air force officers were rebelling in the central city of Maracay.

Police fired at protesters in various Caracas slums Saturday, wounding several. "We have every right to protest, but they are gunning us down out there," said Edgar Paredes, his clothes soaked in blood as he brought his wounded brother to a hospital. He didn't know who shot Luis. Like most violent demonstrations here, gunfire can erupt from any side.

Chavez's family, supporters and former government officials insisted he never resigned, as Carmona and Venezuela's high command have claimed.

Chavez was ousted by Venezuela's military on Friday after National Guard troops and pro-Chavez gunmen clashed with opposition protesters. A pathologist at the Caracas morgue said 30 bodies had been brought in by early Saturday, most with bullet wounds. Authorities said hundreds were injured.

In Caracas, downtown shopkeepers hurriedly closed as word of isolated disruptions spread Saturday. At least 20 small disturbances were reported in Caracas, the new government said. Unrest also was reported in Maracay, Guarenas, Los Teques and Coro.

Police shot tear gas, including in front of the presidential palace, at spontaneous pro-Chavez demonstrations in wide areas of this tropical city of 5 million. Protesters, chanting "Chavez will be back!" and "Democracy, not dictatorship," dispersed, then reformed under a haze of tear gas.

About 500 Chavez supporters also marched overnight on the army fort where Chavez was earlier held, facing off with soldiers and tanks, witnesses said. Troops fired rubber bullets, injuring some protesters, said Brito, the demonstrator.

In contrast to Chavez's strained relations with the United States, Venezuela's new foreign minister-designate, Jose Rodriguez, said Saturday he wants tight relations with Washington and called Colombian rebels "double enemies of humanity." President Bush wants to increase military aid to Colombia to fight the rebels, and Venezuela's cooperation would be an important aspect.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Rodriguez denied that Friday's swearing in of Carmona was a coup in disguise. Mexico, Argentina and Paraguay are among other Latin American countries that have denounced Venezuela's new government as illegitimate.

"I don't think this has been viewed objectively," Rodriguez said. "Here there was no military action, nor is the military in power.

"What we need to explain before our colleagues in the continent is that this is not a coup, although the situation is obviously not normal, legally and constitutionally, as we would wish," Rodriguez said.

Washington said Chavez was responsible for his own ouster because of attempts to violently suppress Thursday's demonstration against him.

The demonstrations were part of a strike called to support oil executives battling Chavez management at the state oil monopoly Petroleos de Venezuela. Venezuela is the No. 3 oil supplier to the United States.

Chavez had ordered National Guard troops and civilian gunmen, including rooftop snipers, to fire on the marchers, military officers said.