Venezuela firm on closing TV station

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – The government demanded Saturday that the Organization of American States retract its criticism of Venezuela’s decision not to renew the license of an opposition-aligned television station.

OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza warned Friday that refusing to renew the license “would be seen as a form of censorship against freedom of expression” and serve as warning to other media critical of the government.

The Foreign Ministry accused Insulza of “improperly meddling” in Venezuela’s affairs and denied that the decision had any “appearance of censorship.” The ministry demanded Insulza “retract a series of comments that go against the truth.”

Tensions have risen to a new level between the government and Venezuela’s largely opposition-aligned private media since Chavez’s December re-election to a fresh six-year term.

Chavez has promised radical changes, including revising the constitution – possibly to get rid of presidential term limits – and creating a single, pro-government party. Many Chavez critics say they fear Venezuela is heading toward the tightly regulated communist system of Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Chavez’s ally and mentor.

Chavez has said the government will not renew the broadcast license of Radio Caracas Television, or RCTV when it expires in May. He accuses RCTV and other opposition-aligned private media of backing a brief coup against him in 2002 and of other subversive activities.

During the short-lived coup, several private channels broadcast regular programs such as cartoons and movies instead of the leader’s return to power during giant street protests.

RCTV President Marcel Granier has said the government’s decision is meant to intimidate and argues the channel has a legal right to continue broadcasting under its current license for many years.

AP-ES-01-06-07 1858EST

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