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Venezuelan Opposition Closes Anti-Reform Campaign with Major Demonstration

Caracas, November 29, 2007, ( - Several hundred thousand opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's proposed constitutional reform marched in Caracas today in their final protest before the referendum on Sunday.

Opposition political parties and student groups gathered in five points before marching to the capital's largest boulevard, Avenida Bolivar, in central Caracas.

Waving US and Spanish flags, in support of Spain's King Juan Carlos who told Chavez to "shut up" at the Ibero-American summit recently and chanting "No to the reform!", protesters handed out glossy leaflets claiming the reform will lead to a dictatorship.

With their designer sunglasses and jewellery, opposition protesters were noticeably better off than their Chavista counterparts, who come predominantly from the poorer areas.

However, Chavez supporters had painted pro-Chavez and pro-reform graffiti all over Avenida Bolivar before the opposition march arrived, and waved pro-reform posters out of windows as opposition supporters marched past.

Several speakers at the march affirmed their conviction that the "No" vote against the reform will win on Sunday.

Henrique Capriles Radonski, the opposition mayor of the upper middle class neighbourhood Baruta in Caracas, said to the gathered crowd, "To the CNE [electoral council] we say, we know that this time we are the majority and there will be people who will go out to defend their vote, one-by-one. We are not armed, but we are no fools and will defend our political right to be equal Venezuelans."

The reform, if adopted, would, among other things, reduce the work week to 36hrs, remove presidential term limits, recognize new forms of property such as communal and social property, and give more power to grassroots communal councils.

While Chavez's personal popularity is high, opinion polls show mixed results, with polling firms linked to the opposition showing the reforms being overwhelmingly defeated and others closer to the government showing strong victory for the reforms.

Chavez says that it is up to the Venezuelan people to decide; if the reforms are defeated he said in a televised interview yesterday, "I will start to pack my bags because I will have to leave the government." However, Chavez assured he is confident that the reforms will be approved by a "crushing majority."

Chavez has also accused the opposition of planning to refuse to recognize the results if they lose and claim fraud. However, he says the Venezuelan electoral system is free and fair and the National Electoral Council has confirmed that 1,600 international observers will monitor the referendum.

The final pro-reform rally is set to take place tomorrow. Rather than take their usual fourteen kilometre march route, which passes through the wealthy opposition suburbs in the east of Caracas, Chavez supporters have instead called only for a rally in Avenida Bolivar, in an attempt to avoid violence.

Opposition protests have turned violent at times, and tensions have heightened in recent days after opposition protesters shot and killed a Chavez supporter in Valencia on November 26.

Published on Nov 29th 2007 at 9.51pm