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Chavez foes seeking presidency hold 1st debate

Chavez foes seeking presidency hold 1st debate

Opposition leaders participating in their first public, televised debate Monday pledged radical changes if elected and pitched proposals to resolve Venezuela's most pressing domestic problems ranging from rampant crime to high unemployment.
The debate featured hopefuls Diego Arria, Pablo Perez, Leopoldo Lopez, Henrique Capriles and Maria Corina Machado. They took turns slamming the policies of President Hugo Chavez and blaming his socialist ideology for many of the country's woes.
The panelists criticized Chavez in particular for failing to effectively fight crime, which Venezuelans identify in surveys as the South American nation's worst problem.
"I want to be president because I don't want anybody falling dead due to violence," said Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles, who leads most recent polls among possible opposition candidates.
Arria said he would fight crime by attacking drug trafficking, adding that cocaine smuggling has led to widespread corruption within the military and drug addiction among increasing numbers of youngsters.
All of the hopefuls condemned what they said was Chavez's insatiable thirst for power. They promised to take steps to ensure the country's next leader doesn't wield unbridled power by enabling other institutions such as the Supreme Court to effectively check the executive's influence.
Arria proposed the election of a special assembly to make constitutional reforms, including one reducing presidential terms from six to three years.
Monday's debate, organized by university students, was the first such parley in decades involving presidential aspirants.
Chavez, who has been fighting cancer, was not invited to participate. Since his first election in 1999, Chavez has declined debate challenges from his opponents.
At least two other debates are planned before a coalition of opposition parties holds a Feb. 12 primary election to choose a single presidential candidate and challengers to the socialist leader's allies in gubernatorial and municipal elections.
Lopez avoided questions aimed at identifying the winner of the debate.
"Venezuela won with this debate," Lopez said. "Debates must be organized because they are necessary to know what the proposals, ideas are, and we'll more forward together."
Coalition political parties have vowed not let their differences stop them from putting up a united front against Chavez in the Oct. 7, 2012, election. Such discord has long bedeviled opposition parties and weakened attempts to mount a strong challenge to Chavez.
Polls show the president remains Venezuela's most popular politician, but he's received growing criticism because of the government's failure to resolve pressing problems such as a severe shortage of housing for the poor, widespread violent crime and Latin America's highest inflation rate.


Updated : 2022-05-24 08:22 GMT+08:00