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Venezuela's opposition protests 'blacklist' barring Chavez foes from running in elections

Venezuela's opposition protests 'blacklist' barring Chavez foes from running in elections

Thousands of opponents of President Hugo Chavez on Saturday protested a "blacklist" unveiled by Venezuela's top anti-corruption official that bars key opposition candidates from running in upcoming elections.
Comptroller General Clodosbaldo Russian has blocked more than 400 mostly opposition politicians from running for office in state and municipal elections in November while he investigates corruption allegations.
Opposition leaders say the list is illegal, saying that under Venezuela's Constitution the basic rights of all citizens are guaranteed unless they have been charged with a crime and sentenced by a court. They also contend the investigation targets Chavez opponents.
Chanting "Freedom! Freedom!" and dancing to salsa music roughly 5,000 opposition sympathizers marched through Caracas demanding that the comptroller general lift the election ban. Some protesters waved posters that read: "Respect the constitution!"
"Our political rights are being violated," said Leopoldo Lopez, a popular Chavez opponent who has been prohibited from running for the Caracas Mayor's Office.
Russian denied this week that the list unfairly targets key opposition leaders, saying "the law does not distinguish" between opposition and pro-government official.
Chavez allies currently control all but four of Venezuela's 23 state governorships and most of its municipal posts. But most of the politicians on Russian's the list are sided with the opposition.
In an editorial published this week, newspaper editor Teodoro Petkoff compared Russian's actions to the political witch hunt that U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy led against suspected American communists in the 1950s.
"Is it pure coincidence that more than 80 percent of the more than 400 excluded ones are anti-government?" Petkoff wrote in the Tal Cual daily newspaper. "Russian's list joins the group headed by the McCarthy List with high honors."
The politicians on Russian's list have appealed to the Supreme Court to strike down the ban, arguing that that their civil liberties are being violated.
But few government adversaries have much faith in the Supreme Court, whose justices were appointed by the Chavista-dominated National Assembly and are widely perceived to be government-friendly.