Chavez closes opposition TV station

[Ed. note: This is extremely disappointing. What is Chavey afraid of? First of all, a President – of any country – shouldn’t be making decisions on which tv stations are allowed to operate. Nationalizing media is not in the people’s interest, in my opinion. Second, if the station did have a hand in an illegal coup attempt, as he claims, then indict and prosecute – by fair and impartial judicial processes – those suspected of wrong doing.]

CARACAS, Venezuela (CNN) — Venezuelan police on Sunday used water cannons and what appeared to be tear gas to break up thousands of demonstrators protesting the government’s decision to close the country’s most-watched television station.

The protest began in front of National Telecommunications Commission headquarters after members of the National Guard seized broadcast equipment, including antennas, the result of a Supreme Court order on Friday.

During the clash, two or three bullets were shot into a nearby traffic light, police said. Soon afterward, the director of the Metropolitan Police, Juan Francisco Romero, pointed to the light, and said on television that police were “not going to accept the situation.”

It was not immediately clear who had fired the shots.

Police told The Associated Press that at least four officers were slightly injured after some of the protesters threw rocks and bottles.

After police stopped using the water cannons, the crowd regrouped, and video of the scene showed a peaceful mood, with people waving flags and chanting as night fell.

Inside the studios of Radio Caracas Television, employees cried and chanted
“Freedom!” on camera, AP reported.

“We are living an injustice,” presenter Eyla Adrian said, according to AP. “I wish that tonight would never come.”

President Hugo Chavez announced in January that the government would not renew the broadcast license for the station, long an outlet for opposition parties.

Chavez has accused the station of supporting the failed 2002 coup against him and violating broadcast laws.

He called the station’s soap operas “pure poison” that promote capitalism, according to AP.

RCTV, which has been broadcasting for 53 years, is slated to be off the air at midnight. It will be replaced by a state-run station.

“To refuse to grant a new license for the most popular and oldest television channel in the country because the government disagrees with the editorial or political views of this channel, which are obviously critical to Chavez, is a case of censorship,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

“We have arrived at totalitarianism,” said Marcel Granier, president of Empresas 1BC, which owns RCTV.

“We will reorganize and continue working. One is beginning a fight — not violent, but active, very active.”

Granier accused Chavez of being “afraid of free thought, of opinion, of criticism.”

The closing of the station will affect “more than 200 journalists, 3,000 workers and the entire Venezulean society,” the station said in a statement posted on its Web site.

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution condemning the decision to shut down the station.

Journalists Flor Santamaria and Carlos Guillen contributed to this story.

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.