Chavez warns Venezuelan TV not to support coup

By Patricia Rondon
Fri 17 Nov 2006 6:52 PM ET

EL ESPINAL, Venezuela, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Friday warned private media he would shut them down if they promote a bid to topple him he says is planned after his expected Dec. 3 re-election.

Chavez, who has gradually increased his control over most Venezuelan institutions, has accused the opposition of planning to oust him if he wins another big majority as most polls expect he will.

He has said he expects the opposition to claim fraud, and to try to mobilize street protesters and the army.

"We have to shut any television channel that broadcasts messages inciting terrorism, hate or war and calls on people not to recognize the authorities. We have to shut it," Chavez said during a speech on Venezuela's Caribbean island of Margarita.

"Anyone who goes to a television channel and calls on the army to overthrow the government will be arrested as soon as he leaves the station," he added.

Chavez's challenger, Manuel Rosales, governor of the western oil state of Zulia, denies all charges he is hatching a coup.

The president has offered no evidence of the opposition-coordinated coup he says is planned, except to cite veteran journalist Rafael Poleo who in a TV interview this month urged a post-vote ouster of Chavez.

Political analysts view a critical media as one of the prime safeguards against Venezuela sliding into a Cuban-style one party state, which Washington regards as a risk.

The country's private television stations mostly are hostile to Chavez. They urged street demonstrations against him during the coup four years ago that briefly dislodged him.

But the anti-U.S. leader said he would thwart any attempt by the media to foment another putsch.

"We are not going to allow them to drench Venezuela in blood again," Chavez said, referring to the more than 60 deaths during a 2002 coup.

State television is strongly biased in favor of the president. Chavez has labeled opposition television channels RCTV, Venevision and Globovision as "horsemen of the apocalypse."

While Friday's warning was aimed at opposition media directly before the election, Chavez also has made longer-term threats to strip channels of their licenses.

Such moves fuel criticism that the president is trying to muzzle opposition so that he can unite the whole country behind his self-styled socialist revolution.

Chavez has said he would not tolerate opposition in the army or the country's massive oil industry, which supplies about 12 percent of U.S. oil imports. But he denies edging toward autocracy, saying he will step aside if voted out.

In recent weeks, he has accused an unnamed army officer of "suspicious" links to the opposition and repeatedly urged the military to obey the constitution.

Chavez boasted that the people and military would thwart any coup plot, saying they were loyal to a revolutionary movement epitomized by its red shirts.

"So here you have them -- the people and armed forces holding the line. Red, really red," he said.