Opposition candidate's backers turn out for huge rally in Caracas

Fabiola Sanchez / The Associated Press /

CARACAS, Venezuela — A huge crowd filled the streets of Venezuela’s capital Sunday, cheering for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, waving flags in a show of support one week before the country’s hotly contested presidential election.

Capriles waved from a truck that rolled through the vast expanse of supporters. The crowd overflowed from Bolivar Avenue, the widest downtown thoroughfare, which according to some estimates has a capacity to hold about 260,000 people. The authorities didn’t provide a crowd estimate.

“Bolivar Avenue is too small for us,” Capriles shouted to the crowd, which was the largest of any opposition gathering in recent years.

While President Hugo Chavez led a rally with tens of thousands of supporters in western Zulia state Sunday, authorities were investigating the killings of two men in a shooting that erupted elsewhere during an opposition campaign caravan Saturday.

Capriles condemned the killings in western Barinas state. “On Oct. 7 we’re going to defeat violence in Venezuela,” Capriles said. “Our country is tired of the violence, of the division, of the confrontation. ... The time of hatred is going to be buried in Venezuela.”

Chavez also lamented the violence, calling for his supporters not to “fall for provocations” at election time. “I ask all Venezuelans, it’s not with violence that we’re going to face each other. It’s vote against vote,” Chavez said.

Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said in Twitter message that a suspect was arrested in the killings, but he didn’t immediately identify him.

Opposition lawmaker Julio Cesar Reyes said on Saturday that a group of Chavez’s supporters blocked the caravan and people on both sides were arguing when a gunman appeared and started shooting. Both men killed were participants in the motorcade of Capriles supporters.

Violence has erupted previously during the campaign for the Oct. 7 vote, but these were the first deaths.

Chavez rallied thousands of supporters during weekend street events in Guarenas, a town east of Caracas, and in western Zulia state.

“It’s impossible for us to lose,” Chavez said at Saturday’s rally in Guarenas. The crowd chanted: “Ooh, Ahh, Chavez won’t go!”

People grabbed at red T-shirts that were thrown into the crowd. Some stood on rooftops cheering, and women screamed as Chavez passed.

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