Venezuela opposition attacked after Chavez speech
CARACAS Jan 19 (Reuters) - Assailants attacked Venezuela's opposition with tear gas on Monday after President Hugo Chavez told police to use gas at anti-government public disturbances ahead of a referendum on allowing the leftist re-election.
Venezuelans will vote on Feb. 15 on a proposed change to the constitution allowing Chavez and other politicians to stay in office as long as they keep winning elections.
A similar proposal was defeated in a referendum in 2007 after large and sometimes violent protest led by students.
Between Sunday night and Monday morning, unknown assailants threw tear gas canisters at the Vatican's embassy in Caracas and at the house of an anti-government media mogul and set fire to a student leader's sport utility vehicle.
Caracas's opposition mayor said gunmen forced their way into city hall on Saturday and gas canisters were lobbed at a student news conference broadcast live on television on Monday.
The series of gas attacks and the burning of student leader Ricardo Sanchez's car followed a speech by Chavez on Saturday calling for police to break up public disturbances.
"Spray them with gas," he said during the speech, which followed a violent student protest against the re-election proposal last week.
The government said the string of attacks was organized by the opposition in cahoots with television station Globovision to cast the government in a bad light.
"Tear gas bombs and burnt cars have already started to appear, curiously along with Globovision cameras," said Jorge Rodriguez, a Chavez ally and mayor for a district in central Caracas.
The Roman Catholic church is unpopular with some Chavez supporters because it often speaks out against the government. Last week Venezuelan bishops said they were "worried" by the proposal to allow Chavez to run gain for office.
The Vatican embassy in Caracas provides refuge to Nelson Moreno, a student leader accused of trying to rape a policewoman.
His lawyer on Monday blamed the attack at the institution on a group of hard-line Chavez supporters known as Colectivo La Piedrita. The group was not immediately available for comment.
(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; editing by David Wiessler)
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