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Opponents of Venezuela's Chávez fight moves to sideline them

A former close collaborator of President Hugo Chávez turned ardent foe was arrested at gunpoint Thursday on corruption charges.

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Opponents of Hugo Chávez unleashed a fresh burst of accusations against the Venezuelan president Friday, a day after a former close collaborator of Mr. Chávez turned ardent foe was arrested at gunpoint on corruption charges.

One Chávez rival, Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of metropolitan Caracas, denounced the president as a tyrant who's trampling on the Venezuelan Constitution by stripping officials such as he of power and punishing political enemies with jail.

"This government is absolutely authoritarian," Mr. Ledezma shouted at a noon rally in Caracas' Plaza Brion. "I'm announcing today that we must begin a permanent civic protest."

Hundreds of supporters interrupted him with chants.

"Dictatorship, no! Democracy, yes!" they shouted. "Let's take it to the streets!"

The rally occurred as Raúl Isaias Baduel, who broke with Chávez in 2007 after resigning as defense minister, was arraigned at a military court in Caracas on charges of stealing $19 million in public funds. A military judge ordered that Mr. Baduel be kept behind bars to prevent him from fleeing the country.

A Caracas radio station quoted Baduel as declaring his innocence and saying that an unmarked car had intercepted his wife and him at noon Thursday in Maracay, 60 miles west of Caracas.

"A group of individuals pointed their weapons at my wife and me and demanded that we accompany them," Baduel said, adding that he was the victim of "a cowardly act ordered by Hugo Chávez."


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