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Chavez threatens to close TV channel critical of him

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez is threatening again to shut down Globovision, the sole television channel in Venezuela that regularly criticizes him — saying it had stirred panic for reporting an earthquake before the government announced it.

"We're not going to tolerate a crazy man with a cannon shooting it at the whole world," Chavez said on his weekly television and radio show Sunday, referring to Alberto Ravell, the Globovision general manager. "Enough! . . . This has to end or I'll stop calling myself Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias."

"You are playing with fire, manipulating, inciting hate and much more. All of you: television networks, radio stations, papers," he said. "Don't make a mistake with me."

Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro followed up Monday by charging that Ravell had terrorized Venezuelan women and children with his 5:21 a.m. report.

"Globovision and Alberto Federico Ravell incited panic and anxiety within the population," Maduro said. "We will not permit that."

The Globovision all-news station on May 4 scooped the government on the mild pre-dawn earthquake, registering 5.5 on the Richter scale, citing the United States Geological Survey Web page as its source.

Chavez and other government officials also seem upset that Ravell, reporting the details on the earthquake via telephone, chided the government for not providing any news.

"Unfortunately, we haven't been able to find any authority who can give us precise and exact information," said Ravell, while reporting that the country was calm and that the earthquake had caused no major damage.

The attacks against Globovision come at a time when Chavez and senior aides are sidelining opposition leaders with corruption charges. Meanwhile, the Chavez-controlled Congress has taken away the budget of Caracas' newly elected mayor and is moving to impose a Chavez-appointed "vice president" over the country's governors.

Chavez has had a running battle with Globovision and has threatened before to shutter the station. Globovision has a reputation for aggressively reporting on the government's mistakes.

His attacks in the past week were among his fiercest yet.

"They are trying to shut us because we gave good information before they did," Ravell said in an interview Monday at the station. "This is crazy. They don't want any information on the air inside or outside of the country on what's really happening."

Other television stations rarely initiate stories critical of the government after Chavez forced a year-long shut-down of RCTV, which aggressively covered him and his ministers.

Globovision has long seemed to be under siege.

Twenty-foot walls topped by barbed wire encircle its building in a residential neighborhood.

Globovision, like RCTV, has been strongly criticized for broadcasting food shows and the like during the two-day coup staged against Chavez in 2002.

Along with its aggressive coverage of Chavez, Globovision also broadcasts live the government's attacks on it, including this broadside from Maduro on Monday: "There's a long history of media terrorism by Globovision. They are racists and hate the poor. They've tried to suffocate the institutions of the state. They practice fascist values. (The earthquake) report was vulgar and violated the rights of Venezuelans."

Maduro didn't respond when asked what he found offensive in the earthquake coverage.

Ravell said Globovision's ratings surge during anti-government protests because other stations only note the events briefly, while Globovision typically broadcasts them live.


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