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Venezuela President Ousted, Businessman to Lead Interim Government

Pedro Carmona, the chief of the country’s largest business association, announced today he will lead an interim government until elections are held next year.

Chavez is now in military custody at Caracas’ Fort Tiuna army base, and may face charges stemming from Thursday’s violence. The former paratrooper was seen being led from the presidential palace early this morning wearing his signature uniform and red beret. Chavez requested he be allowed to go to Cuba, a country he has established close ties with, but the military refused.

“He has to be held accountable to his country,” Army Gen. Roman Fuemayor told Globovision television.

The violence erupted Thursday during the third straight day of marches opposing recent management changes made by Chavez to the state-run oil giant PDVSA. The demonstration turned bloody when Chavez ordered National Guard troops and civilian rooftop snipers to stop the 150,000 marchers from reaching the presidential palace.

“We ask the Venezuelan people’s forgiveness for Thursday’s events,” said Army Commander Gen. Efrain Vasquez Velasco. “Mr. President, I was loyal to the end, but Thursday’s deaths cannot be tolerated.”

Military leaders reportedly confronted the president in his palace after the massacre to force him to resign.

“The president was asked to resign from his post and he accepted,” said Armed Forces chief General Rincón. “Have faith in your armed forces.”

During a press conference, Interim President Carmona pledged to work to heal the nation’s wounds and called for an end to the strike that had crippled the nation’s oil production.

“Lots of support will be needed to obtain the conditions required to rebuild confidence in the country and improve its international image, which is so damaged and depressed,” he said.

He also said that Venezuela would stop shipping oil to Cuba immediately.

Chavez became increasingly unpopular for leading a seemingly left-wing government that had largely failed to address the country’s chronic poverty and widespread unemployment. He built stronger diplomatic ties to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and to Libya. He also increased tensions by criticizing U.S. bombings in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials accused the Chavez government of provoking the current crisis by ordering its supporters to fire on peaceful demonstrators.

“Details are still unclear, but what we do know is that the actions encouraged by the Chavez government provoked a crisis. According to the best information we have, the government suppressed what was a peaceful demonstration of the people,” said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Fleischer said the United States expresses its solidarity with the Venezuelan people and looks forward to working with democratic forces in the troubled nation.

Global reaction to Chavez’s resignation was most immediate on the oil market, where prices dropped Friday. The Venezuelan president had helped keep oil prices high by curbing excessive output from his country, the world’s fourth-largest producer.