Riots follow Chavez shutdown

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Venezuelan public broadcaster TVES went on air Monday after a weekend of violent protests sparked by the government closure of private network RCTV, which TVES replaces. The government has accused RCTV of supporting a failed coup attempt. The private broadcaster, which enjoyed an average 30% share of national viewers, went dark Sunday night.

Thousands took to the streets of Caracas over the weekend to protest the government's decision, and crowds were controlled by troops using powerful fire hoses.

President Hugo Chavez refused to renew Caracas-based RCTV's broadcast license, alleging Venezuela's oldest private network backed a movement to overthrow his government in 2002.

The Venezuelan Supreme Court said earlier this month it will consider an appeal of the decision presented by the station, but rejected its motion for an injunction that would have kept RCTV on the air while the appeal is being reviewed.

RCTV executives have characterized the move as "illegal, unconstitutional" and part of an effort to "silence public opinion." Press-freedom groups and other international organizations have also criticized the decision.

Protesters banging pots and pans clashed with police over the weekend in the nation's capital, accusing the Chavez government of suppressing freedom of expression. Then thousands of the president's supporters took to the streets, supporting his decision to launch TVES in place of RCTV.

Critics see TVES as a pro-government mouthpiece. Chavez has said the public broadcaster will serve to democratize the airwaves.

John Hecht reported from Mexico City; Pamela Rolfe reported from Madrid.
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