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Venezuela's Chavez back in power, calls for unity

CARACAS, Venezuela (CNN) -- President Hugo Chavez reclaimed power in Venezuela early Sunday, promising to unite the country after being forced out of office for two days amid massive protests.

Chavez was forced from office by military leaders after he ordered the army to quell anti-government protests, killing 12 demonstrators, opposition leaders and the U.S. State Department said.

"There are a lot of urgent things to take care of now," Chavez said. "We must fix that light that has been broken. I call for peace. I call for strength within all Venezuelans."

Initially, Chavez was replaced by Pedro Carmona, head of the country's largest business association and a prominent critic. But Carmona resigned under pressure from military brass late Saturday, when he was replaced by Chavez's vice president Diosdado Cabello.

Three-thousand members of the National Honor Guard -- which protects the presidential palace and has remained loyal to Chavez -- had regained control of the presidential residence, Miraflores, hours before Carmona's resignation became official.

The National Assembly, dissolved by Carmona on Friday only to be reinstalled the following day, swore in Cabello as the head of the government. But soon after the ceremony, Cabello told national radio that he would step aside as soon as Chavez could be reinstated.

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Chavez returned to the palace before dawn Sunday and was seen surrounded by bodyguards. Jubilant supporters gathered outside the palace ahead of his return, waving flags and singing the national anthem.

Chavez denied a military announcement that he had resigned early Friday. He called on his opponents put aside their hate and recognize the country's constitution, and he promised, "I haven't any thirst for revenge."

Despite the military's role in his temporary removing him from office, Chavez praised the armed forces. "Our military forces ... have a heart," he said. "I was never mistreated."

"I have learned a lot from our military forces. By listening to them I felt like a soldier once again."

Chavez, who led a bloody 1992 failed coup attempt, has enjoyed wide support from Venezuela's poor, many of whom believe he has addressed issues facing them. He took office in 1999 after a sweeping to election victory, promising constitutional reform, an end to corruption and the redistribution of oil wealth.

Last week's demonstrations involved hundreds of thousands of people. They were triggered by what protest leaders called Chavez's authoritarian regime and decisions made by his top officials -- in particular, his replacement of top officials at the state oil company in February. After taking power Friday, Carmona said one of his first acts in office would be to rehire state oil company workers Chavez fired.

In Washington, the Bush administration greeted his ouster Friday by saying he had brought it on himself. Sunday, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said she hoped Chavez would listen to his countrymen now that he has been restored to power.

"I hope that ... he understands this is the time for him to reflect on how Venezuela got to where it is. He needs to respect constitutional processes. This is no time for a witch hunt. This is time for national reconciliation in Venezuela," Rice told NBC's "Meet the Press."

She added, "We do hope that Chavez recognizes that the whole world is

Cabello, left, third leader in three days  

watching and that he takes advantage of this opportunity to right his own ship, which has been moving, frankly, in the wrong direction for quite a long time."

Venezuela is the world's No. 4 oil exporter and the second biggest source of oil to the United States. Washington blamed Chavez for provoking the crisis, accusing his administration of ordering snipers to fire on protesters and saying he did not "act with restraint and show full respect for the peaceful expression of political opinion."

But many other regional leaders withheld support for the new government.

The leaders of Argentina, Mexico and Paraguay -- meeting in San Jose, Costa Rica -- said Saturday they would not recognize any new leaders in Venezuela until elections are held there.




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