Venezuela TV station seizure sends chilling message of totalitarian rule

CARACAS, May 28, 2007 (AFP) – Despite protests by democracy activists, Venezuela’s oldest television network went off the air at midnight Sunday, victim of a fresh push by President Hugo Chavez to tighten his grip over the nation’s media. RCTV screens went black after the station broadcast previously-recorded images of its teary-eyed employees singing the national anthem.

The channel’s successor, Chavez-backed TVes, began broadcasting its own programming minutes later.

As 53-year-old RCTV was about to fade into history, network president Marcel Granier told US-based Univision television that Chavez was driven by “a megalomaniacal desire to establish a totalitarian dictatorship.”

Police used water cannon dispersed thousands of stone-throwing protesters outside Venezuela’s telecom authority, which had ordered RCTV off the air.

Meanwhile, Chavez supporters held a huge, night-to-dawn public party outside RCTV studios to celebrate the birth of the new “socialist television” and the end of the bitterly anti-Chavez RCTV.

The closure of Venezuela’s oldest network, the latest episode in President Chavez’s socialist revolution, sparked growing protests over the weekend.

Chavez’s political opponents championed RCTV as