Chavez Denies He's Trying to Control Internet

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez denied that the government plans to impose controls on the Internet, saying Sunday that his administration aims to increase Web access rather than limit it.

Earlier this month, Chavez sparked concerns of a possible crackdown on Web sites critical of his government when he called for regulation of the Internet and urged prosecutors to act against Noticiero Digital, a site popular among his opponents.

Chavez has become increasingly critical of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook and says adversaries use them to deceive the public.

On Sunday, speaking during his weekly television and radio show, the socialist leader said the government has inaugurated 668 Internet centers in much of the country that offer Venezuelans access to the Web, and his administration plans to spend close to $11 million this year to build 200 more.

Still, Chavez also told his audience that government critics often use the Web "to generate panic," and said such actions "cannot be permitted."

He announced plans to counter such online criticism by launching his own Web page and becoming a cyber-activist himself: "I'm going to have my Internet trench, my trench for the battle."

The number of Internet subscribers climbed to more than 1.5 million last year in this politically divided South American country of 29 million -- up from about 273,000 nine years ago -- according to Chavez.

He said roughly 35 percent of all Internet users get access to the Web at government centers.