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Tens Of Thousands Protest Chavez In Venezuela

09/ 5/09 08:18 PM ET   AP

Venezuela Anti Chavez

CARACAS, Venezuela — Tens of thousands marched through Venezuela's capital on Saturday to protest what they call growing authoritarianism by President Hugo Chavez.

A few thousand of the president's backers held a separate counter-rally to express support for the government's policies.

Anti-Chavez protesters, many of them wearing white, filled the streets of Caracas, denouncing recent arrests of opposition members for alleged violence during protests and a new education law that critics fear could lead to indoctrination in schools.

"It's very concerning because education is Venezuela's future," said 23-year-old engineering student Carlos Delgado, who also complained of soaring inflation and rampant crime after more than a decade under Chavez.

"We have 11 years with the same faces, the same problems, and the truth is that we don't see any solutions," Delgado said.

Carlos Garcia, a 41-year-old administrative worker who attended the pro-government march, said Venezuela's poorer sectors have achieved greater equality under Chavez. He dismissed the opposition's claims about the education law, saying it aims to make the system more inclusive, and defended the recent jailing of opposition demonstrators.

"If a person is provoking violence, they should be punished," Garcia said.

There were no reports of disturbances Saturday.

(This version CORRECTS that opponents were arrested for alleged violence during protests, instead of during the protests.)

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Filed by Lila Shapiro  |