January 26, 2010 / 9:02 PM / 9 years ago

Venezuela protests France TV closure comments

* Chavez sends diplomatic protest note to France

* Escalation of dispute could affect French investments

* Oil company Total, retailer Casino have holdings

CARACAS, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Venezuela has sent France a protest note over criticisms of last week’s move to push an opposition station off subscription television networks, President Hugo Chavez said on Tuesday.

“I had to approve a protest note for the government France, and it makes me sad,” Chavez said in televised comments. “I don’t know why the government of (Nicolas) Sarkozy has to get involved in those internal issues.”

Venezuelan subscription television providers, responding to government orders, on Sunday stopped showing the opposition station RCTV, which the leftist Chavez had pushed off free-access television in 2007.

A spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry on Monday expressed “concern” about the decision and urged authorities to “quickly revoke the decision.”

Chavez in previous bilateral disputes has threatened foreign investors, most notably when he threatened actions Spanish multinationals following a row with Spanish King Juan Carlos I.

French oil giant Total (TOTF.PA), which has billions of dollars invested in Venezuela, is considered a likely candidate to take part in bidding for several heavy oil projects.

Chavez this month nationalized a hyper-market chain owned by French retailer Casino (CASP.PA) on charges of price gouging. The company owns another chain of supermarkets in Venezuela.

Sunday’s removal of RCTV from subscription television was widely criticized by press freedom groups and by the U.S. government, though it was backed by Chavez supporters who say the station was not following broadcast rules.

Reporting by Enrique Andres, Writing by Brian Ellsworth, Editing by Sandra Maler

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