Clash erupts as troops take over police station

CURIEPE, Venezuela – National Guard troops seized a police station controlled by a leading opponent of President Hugo Chavez on Wednesday, sparking clashes between soldiers and protesters that authorities said injured eight people.

Hundreds of townspeople massed outside the police station in this small town east of Caracas after the National Guard evicted police. The protesters hurled rocks, bottles and molotov cocktails. Troops in riot gear fired tear gas at the crowd.

The clashes added to tensions between Chavez’s administration and elected opposition officials who denounce the government for trying to undermine them and strip them of authority.

“I hold the interior minister responsible because this is a premeditated plan,” Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles said in a televised news conference, accusing the National Guard of acting like the “militia of a political party.”

There was no immediate response from the national government, and the Defense Ministry did not return a call seeking comment.

Tensions between Capriles and Chavez’s government have been brewing since the opposition politician defeated an incumbent ruling-party candidate in elections last year.

A similar clash erupted Friday when National Guard troops tried to seize another state police station on orders from a pro-Chavez mayor in Miranda, which includes part of Caracas and surrounding areas to the south and east.

Chavez’s government in recent months has taken over airports, seaports, highways, hospitals and schools previously controlled by opposition governors and mayors who won elections last year. Opponents denounce the moves as a power grab, saying it aims to limit their powers and funding.

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