Venezuela security forces break up student protest

CARACAS,  (Reuters) – Venezuelan security forces  fired a water cannon and rubber bullets yesterday to disperse  hundreds of students protesting against a new law tightening  the government’s control over universities.

The measure, passed in the early hours, is the latest in a  package of laws rushed through by the National Assembly to  entrench President Hugo Chavez’s self-styled socialist  “revolution” before a new parliament is sworn in next month.

The students say the law gives too much power to the  government, aims to promote socialist ideology and will be used  to crack down on autonomous universities that have long been  centers of opposition to the president’s leftist agenda. In the latest of a string of minor protests against the new  laws, about 500 student demonstrators converged in downtown  Caracas. Some waved signs reading: “We will not obey your law!”  and “I’ll swap Christmas for freedom.”

They were confronted by National Guard troops in helmets  and riot gear, and clashes briefly blocked a major highway,  Reuters witnesses said. A photographer from another news agency  was hurt when he was hit in the head by a rock.

Elsewhere, student supporters of Chavez celebrated the  passing of the measure, stringing up a copy of the old  university law and beating it with sticks.
The outgoing National Assembly, which is dominated by  Chavez loyalists, has passed a raft of legislation in recent  days including bills making it easier for the government to  nationalize banks, police criticism on the Web, and prevent  lawmakers from voting against their own parties.

Most controversial among those was an “Enabling Law” that  gave Chavez the power to rule the continent’s biggest oil  producer by decree for the next 18  months, taking him to within  six months of the next presidential election. “This was a predawn ambush by 100 people who intend to  govern the lives of more than 20 million Venezuelans,” the  rector of the Central University of Venezuela, Cecilia Garcia,  told local media, referring to the 3 a.m. vote on the new law.

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