CARACAS (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Venezuelan protesters marched on Saturday to the Caracas headquarters of an anti-government television station, which is being forced off the air after President Hugo Chavez’s administration refused to renew its broadcasting license.
Waving flags with the logo of RCTV, demonstrators packed the streets of the capital where news anchors and soap opera stars slammed the imminent closure of the opposition channel.
“What is happening here is simply the silencing of a television station,” shouted soap opera actress Gledys Ibarra.
The government is not renewing RCTV’s license after 53 years on the air because of accusations that the broadcaster participated in a bungled 2002 coup against Chavez, incited violent demonstrations and aired immoral programming.
On Friday Venezuela’s top court ordered the military to seize control of some of the TV station’s installations and equipment in a show of force that included mobilization of anti-riot vehicles to prevent protests from turning violent.
Critics condemned the closure for silencing an influential opposition voice and called the move evidence that Chavez’s self-styled socialist revolution is concentrating power and muzzling the opposition.
Late on Friday a group of demonstrators shouting pro-Chavez slogans spray-painted the headquarters of news channel Globovision, the country’s last openly anti-government station, which Chavez has also threatened to take off the air for its critical coverage.
The closure of RCTV drew heavy international criticism including a U.S. Senate resolution last week unanimously condemning “transgression of freedom of thought and expression” in Venezuela.
For years, Venezuela’s television stations were virulently anti-Chavez and openly supported the 2002 putsch that briefly ousted him. But more recently the media have slowly started falling in line with the increasingly powerful government.
Chavez’s government announced on Saturday it had renewed the broadcast license of four other television stations, including Venevision, which the government said committed many of the same crimes that were used to deny a license to RCTV.