Venezuelan students took to the streets Monday to protest the government's decision to ban six TV stations, including the frequent voice of criticism Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), from broadcasting. The ban has provoked international concern, as some see it as an effort by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who faces parliamentary elections this year, to silence political opponents.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the protests began after cable companies dropped the stations from their transmissions in compliance with government orders. The Venezuelan government declared that the stations had violated Venezuelan telecommunications laws by failing to broadcast Mr. Chávez's speeches.
Students from four Caracas universities blocked traffic, causing transportation snarls and the dispersion of riot police armed with tear gas and truncheons. Protests were also reported in Merida, Valencia, Ciudad Guayana, and the port city of Maracaibo, where four marchers protesting the RCTV ban were reportedly injured when a Chávez supporter drove his car into a rally.
Reuters cites government officials as saying that a pro-Chávez student was killed in the protests and nine policemen were injured. Reuters writes that RCTV in particular seems to have been in the government's cross hairs, as Chávez has repeatedly accused the station of supporting his opposition. During the 2002 coup that briefly removed Chávez from power, RCTV heavily covered anti-Chávez protests and called the coup a victory for democracy.
The government passed a law in December declaring all television or radio stations with at least 30 percent Venezuelan-made programming a "national" media outlet, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).
El Universal of Caracas writes that the US expressed concern over the closures. An editorial in the Los Angeles Times slammed the move as "part of a pattern of regulatory attacks on the media." Reporters Without Borders condemned the censorship of the six stations, arguing that the Chávez's "interminable" speeches, or "cadenas," are mere propaganda.
The protests come as Chávez faces "the biggest threat to his popularity in years," Reuters writes in a news analysis. Venezuela is set to hold elections in September, and inflation, banking scandals, and power outages have increased public discontent. Further, Bloomberg reports that Venezuelan Vice President and Defense Minister Ramon Carrizalez and his wife, the environment minister, both resigned yesterday, leaving holes in Chávez's government. Mr. Carrizalez said that his decision to resign was for personal reasons, though Bloomberg suggests it might be a sign of Chávez's displeasure with how Carrizalez dealt with Venezuela's electricity shortages.
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