Caracas mayor on hunger strike over hardline Chavez

Mon Jul 6, 2009 12:16pm EDT

CARACAS, July 3 (Reuters) - The mayor of the Venezuelan capital of Caracas said on Monday he has not eaten for three days to draw attention to what he called months of harassment by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Chavez, a socialist former coup leader who first won office of the OPEC nation a decade ago, reduced the power of elected opposition officials this year after they won some key states and cities in a regional vote last November.

Television images showed Mayor Antonio Ledezma looking pale and propped up in a bed wearing white hospital-style pajamas on the third day of a hunger strike he began in the Venezuelan offices of the Organization of American States.

Ledezma is calling for an OAS commission to investigate his treatment at the hands of the Chavez government. He did not say how long he was prepared to fast.

Several workers from the mayor's office are also taking part in the hunger strike.

"It is unforgivable that they sabotage and block all the programs and projects that we have tried to promote in my administration as the metropolitan mayor of Caracas," Ledezma said, via the Globovision television channel.

The mayor has lost control over the police, medical and emergency services and schools and says he has struggled to pay workers because of funding delays since he beat a Chavez-backed candidate in November.

Most seriously, Congress stripped Ledezma of control of the large Libertador municipality in the center of Caracas and replaced him with an official hand-picked by Chavez.

Hunger strikes are common in Latin America but are often not strictly adhered too, however Ledezma's wife Mitzy Capriles said the mayor was serious about his protest.

"This is not one of those hunger strikes where you eat in the morning and the evening," she said.

(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel, editing by Alan Elsner)