April 8, 2006 in Nation/World

U.S. ambassador to Venezuela’s car pelted, chased

Ian James Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela – Supporters of President Hugo Chavez threw eggs and tomatoes at the U.S. ambassador’s car Friday and motorcyclists chased his convoy for miles, at times pounding on the vehicles. The U.S. State Department swiftly accused Caracas city officials of complicity.

Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez was summoned to the State Department in Washington and told that his country was in violation of an international convention that requires host countries to ensure the safety of foreign diplomats, department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

The diplomat was warned there would be “severe diplomatic consequences between our countries” if another such incident should occur, McCormack said.

Brian Penn, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, said Venezuelan police escorts did not intervene as a car carrying Ambassador William Brownfield was pounded, kicked and pelted. No one was hurt.

“We’re being attacked by groups of motorcyclists while we’re traveling in an embassy car,” Penn told the Associated Press by cell phone shortly before the motorcycles stopped chasing the four-car convoy.

The Caracas mayor’s office denied any involvement.

Brownfield has faced several protests at recent appearances. Chavez has repeatedly accused Washington of conspiring to overthrow him, an accusation U.S. officials have denied. The U.S. Embassy has asked the Venezuelan government to improve security for the ambassador, saying it’s legally bound to do so.

Penn said the protest began when Brownfield visited a baseball stadium in a poor neighborhood of Caracas to hand out bats and other donated equipment to a youth league.

During the event, a Chavez supporter who described himself as an official of the pro-Chavez mayor’s office walked up and said the people in the area wanted Brownfield to leave, Penn said. The man appeared to be leading the protest, Penn said.

Brownfield stayed and finished the event, by which time a protest by a few dozen people had formed outside, chanting “Go home! Go home!”

Penn said the barrage of tomatoes, eggs and other items began when the convoy pulled out and drove through an adjacent market. He said National Guard troops were on hand and pushed the crowd back as the cars passed through.

“Our car is stained all over,” Penn said. “They were pounding on the cars, including pounding on the ambassador’s car while they were driving. There was no one stopping them.”

He said some 12 motorcyclists chased the convoy for three or four miles.

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