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Venezuelan Coup Plotter Escapes
By The Associated Press/New York Times 5/24/2002

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- The man who briefly replaced Venezuela's president during a short-lived coup was seeking asylum in the Colombian Embassy Friday after escaping from house arrest.

Pedro Carmona went for a walk outside his home in Caracas on Thursday morning, then slipped away, his lawyer said. A day earlier, a court had ordered him transferred from house arrest to jail.

The 60-year-old Carmona faces up to 20 years in prison for rebellion and conspiracy for the April 12 coup, which was reversed two days later, bringing Chavez back to power and landing Carmona in custody.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Luis Alfonso Davila confirmed Carmona's asylum bid, but did not say how his government planned to react.

In Bogota, Colombian Foreign Minister Guillermo Fernandez said his nation would try to decide on the request quickly.

Carmona's lawyer, Juan Martin Echeverria, had said that the appeals court ruling, which cannot be appealed, violated his client's right to be tried in freedom.

Meanwhile, in Caracas, tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators took to the streets Thursday, accusing Venezuela's attorney general of bias in the investigation of the coup last month and demanding he resign. The march was the third massive anti-government demonstration since Chavez's return to power.

Chavez was ousted April 12 by military generals after a massive demonstration against his rule ended in bloodshed. He quickly regained power with the help of loyalist troops and an outpouring of popular support.

Carmona, former president of the country's largest business association, helped organize a general strike and march leading up to the coup. Claiming Chavez had resigned, military generals installed Carmona as president.

A day after Chavez's ouster, Carmona closed Congress, the Supreme Court, threw out the constitution and promised general elections within a year. Carmona was promptly arrested after Chavez returned to power.

He has denied conspiring to overthrow the government and said he accepted the presidency because he believed Chavez had resigned.

In Caracas, the demonstrators protested what they said was the government's biased investigation into deadly violence during the protests that briefly toppled Chavez, a leftist former paratrooper whose close ties to Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Iraq's Saddam Hussein have irritated U.S. officials.

``We are marching to demonstrate that Venezuelans are waiting for justice, and we won't have justice while the attorney general is a man clearly partial to the government,'' said opposition lawmaker Andres Velasquez.

After almost six weeks, few results have emerged from Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez's investigation into dozens of deaths during civilian and military uprisings that deposed and quickly restored Chavez.

Seventeen people died and hundreds were wounded April 11 when gunmen opened fire on an opposition march, pro-Chavez protesters and security officials trying to keep the two sides from clashing.

Thursday's march coincided with mounting calls for early elections, including from members of the president's own coalition, the Fifth Republic Movement.

Fifth Republic Movement director general Francisco Ameliach said a referendum was the only way to prevent an explosion of violence like the one that prompted last month's coup.


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