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Americas

Venezuela celebrates 200 years of independence

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-04-20

President Hugo Chavez kicked off celebrations on Monday to mark the 200th anniversary of Venezuela's independence. Critics and opposition groups used the occasion to accuse Chavez of turning nation into Cuban-style dictatorship.

AFP - Venezuela has kicked off celebrations marking 200 years of independence, as opposition groups lamented the state of the country's democracy under the rule of firebrand leftist leader Hugo Chavez.

Recently-acquired Chinese K-8 planes and Russian Sukhoi-30 fighter aircraft swooped through the sky during a lavish military parade in Caracas, as soldiers from Algeria, Belarus, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Libya and Nicaragua joined those on the ground.

Flanked by his top ally Cuban President Raul Castro and Bolivian President Evo Morales, Chavez, wearing a military uniform and red beret, joined generals in lauding his socialist revolution.

None of Venezuela's opposition leaders was invited to the ceremony.

"More than ever, Venezuela will not be a "yankee" colony, nor a colony of anyone. The time for our true independence has come, 200 years on," said the Venezuelan leader renowned for his anti-US rhetoric.

Chavez earlier laid a wreath on the tomb of independence fighter Simon Bolivar, in a ceremony before sympathetic regional leaders at the National Pantheon in Caracas.

Venezuelan patriot Bolivar went on to liberate a string of South American nations from Spanish colonial rule after declaring his country a free and sovereign state.

Chavez worships Bolivar and even renamed his country the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela after he took power in 1999.

The lavish celebrations commemorated April 19, 1810, when the municipal council of Caracas first led a successful movement to depose the Spanish governor. Venezuela finally achieved independence on June 24, 1821.

The presidents of Argentina, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic joined in with celebrations, while Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa arrived later to take part in a summit of regional leftist leaders.

Argentine leader Cristina Kirchner used the emotion-laden day to thank regional powers for their solidarity over Buenos Aires's claims to the British Falkland Islands, denouncing the rule as a "colonial enclave" and stressing the need to "universalize" the issue.

Britain successfully retained the south Atlantic Ocean islands -- known in Argentina as the Malvinas -- after a 1982 Argentine military invasion, but Buenos Aires has never abandoned its ownership claim.

The prime ministers of the Caribbean nations of Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines were also present.

Meanwhile, Venezuelan opposition groups -- gathered under the political coalition Table of Democratic Unity (MUD) -- warned that Chavez's 11-year rule had "promoted separation and confrontation" in Venezuelan society, and cast a long shadow over the country's ideals.

Chavez "has systematically reduced our democratic abilities, and compromised our future and our progress," the coalition said in a statement Sunday.

Former Venezuelan president Carlos Andres Perez similarly questioned whether it was a time to rejoice over independence when a "militarized and authoritarian regime" was in power, referring to former military commander Chavez.

Earlier this year Chavez celebrated his time in office by vowing to govern for 11 more years, after winning a referendum to scrap term limits last year.

He said he would cleanse Venezuela of a century of domination by oligarchs and the United States, which is a key importer of Venezuela's abundant oil.

In more than a decade of tumultuous rule, Chavez has nationalized public utilities, key industries and media outlets and launched health and education programs for the poor, as well as intensified pressure on opposition groups and dissidents.

Regional political tensions flared last year after he said the "winds of war" were building on the continent amid US plans to use military bases in Colombia to fight the drug trade.

Date created : 2010-04-20

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