CARACAS — Venezuelan police on Monday used truncheons and tear gas to disperse scores of angry students protesting a government shutdown of six television stations, including one opposed to President Hugo Chavez's government.
As the media crisis heated up, the country's Vice President Ramon Carrizalez, who also holds the title of defense minister, announced his resignation Monday, and while rumors at the weekend alleged he was to resign over his simmering differences with Chavez, the vice president said he was leaving for personal reasons.
The students, who had blocked access to roads near the university, vowed not to be dissuaded from taking to the streets to express their displeasure over the latest move by Chavez to advance his socialist agenda and control of the country since he took office in 1999.
"We won't be deterred, regardless of what the government does," said Roderick Navarro, student leader from the Central University of Venezuela, one day after the closure of the stations.
The government ordered the closure of the television stations on Sunday for refusing to broadcast Chavez's speeches, as required under a law passed in December.
Under the new measure, every television or radio station whose programming is at least 30 percent Venezuelan-made is considered a "national" media outlet.
The measure requires, among other mandates, that national media outlets air speeches by Chavez and other top officials, as well as government announcements. But Chavez critics view many of those speeches, which can last for hours, as government propaganda.
In addition to the opposition station RCTV, the dropped channels include Ritmo Son, Momentum, America TV, American Network and TV Chile.
Journalism and human rights groups have expressed concern over the muzzling of press freedoms and have called for peaceful protests against the law.
Carrizalez, who had been vice president since 2008, said the reasons for his departure were "strictly personal."
"My resignation is not the result of any discrepancy with government decisions, and any other version about my reasons for resigning is false and malicious," Carrizales said in a statement.
His resignation over alleged differences with Chavez had been rumored since Saturday.
Carrizalez's wife and Environment Minister, Yubiri Ortega, also resigned her post.
The United States said the US Embassy in Caracas raised its concerns about the new law with Venezuelan authorities at the weekend.
"Any time the government shuts down an independent network, that is an area of concern. And we will continue to voice those concerns to any government, including the government of Venezuela," said US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley.
TV Chile's suspension is only temporary and will soon be broadcasting again, once it registers properly as an international television channel in Caracas, said the head of Venezuela's Cable Television Chamber.
However, opposition lawmakers in Santiago are pressing Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to take a strong stand before Chavez and demand respect for Chilean institutions.
Officials in Caracas said the government would be willing to reverse the shutdown of RCTV if it stops its opposition to the law and totally revamps its programming over the next few months.
The blackout rankled Venezuelans who missed Sunday's much-anticipated final game of a local baseball championship.