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Thursday, 18 April, 2002, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
Bush warns Chavez
Women mourn those who died in last week's demonstrations
At least 40 people died in Venezuela's riots
US President George Bush has urged Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to learn from the turmoil that erupted in his country following his brief ousting last week and commit himself to democracy.

In a meeting with Colombian President Andres Pastrana on Thursday, Mr Bush said that Mr Chavez must "embrace those institutions which are fundamental to democracy, including freedom of the press and freedom for the ability of the opposition to speak".

If there's lessons to be learned, it's important that he learn them

George W Bush

"If there's lessons to be learned, it's important that he learn them," he added.

Mr Bush's comments come as foreign ministers of the Organisation of American States (OAS) prepare to meet in Washington to discuss the continuing political turmoil in Venezuela.

The OAS is to be briefed by its secretary general, Cesar Gaviria, who has returned from a three-day mission to the country.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, left, with Cesar Gaviria
Chavez (l) was visited by the OAS chief
Mr Gaviria has warned all political groups in the country that their dissatisfaction should be expressed through constitutional channels and not through violence.

"This country has to learn from the traumatic events of last week," he told The Associated Press news agency.

"On both sides there is a theory that confrontation is inevitable, as if this is impossible to solve. Those theories lead to instability and war."


Mr Chavez has offered the prospect of a dialogue with opposition parties, but many are mistrustful and some are refusing to recognise him as head of state.

On Wednesday a stormy session in the Venezuelan parliament led to opposition leaders heckling President Chavez, calling for his resignation and demanding immediate elections.

Demonstrators burn debris in Venezuelan streets
Gaviria warned Venezuelans not to resort to violence to express their opinions
More than 40 people are thought to have died during demonstrations following the brief ousting of Mr Chavez last week in a military coup, with both sides blaming the other for the deaths.

Mr Chavez has admitted to "excesses" during his presidency, but he is continuing to offer the possibility of dialogue with opposition parties.

The US had been criticized for failing to condemn last week's coup, and was forced to deny reports that it had encouraged the brief ousting of the leader.

Mr Chavez has claimed that he saw a plane with US registration plates on Venezuela's Orchila Island, one of five places he was held in captivity during his brief removal from power.

And the Venezuelan leader has also angered the Bush administration by announcing that Venezuela - the world's fourth largest oil producer - will continue supplying oil to Cuba.

The BBC's Raphael Jesurum
"The past few days have shown how deep divisions in Venezuelan society run"
See also:

15 Apr 02|Americas
Washington's Chavez dilemma
14 Apr 02|Media reports
Chavez calls for national unity
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