Public employees close offices, pack Chavez rally

Associated Press + More

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Thursday was not a good day to try to get any public business done in Venezuela's capital.

State employees quit their offices by the tens of thousands, joining the red-shirted throngs that filled Caracas's center for the final pre-election rally for President Hugo Chavez.

Chavez's opponent in Sunday's election, Henrique Capriles, and his supporters accused the government of handing out red shirts to public employees and compelling them to participate.

People converged on Caracas by bus from all corners of Venezuela for Thursday's street party. People barbecued on sidewalks, danced to music played on various stages and downed beer before a deluge drenched everyone, including Chavez.

The crowd numbered several hundred thousand, topping the turnout the previous Sunday for Capriles' final rally in Caracas.

One Chavez supporter said he arrived for Thursday's event on a bus from Maracaibo chartered by that city's pro-Chavez mayor. Luis Eduardo Bolivar said he was grateful to Chavez for giving him a house, a wheelchair for one of his relatives and his pension.

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