Venezuela celebrates bicentenary with Caracas parade

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Celebrations have been taking place in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, to mark the country's bicentenary.

A large parade included the military and different groups from across Venezuelan society.

Attending the celebrations were allies of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, such as President Raul Castro from Cuba and President Evo Morales from Bolivia.

Mr Chavez said his socialist policies were part of the same battle as that of independence hero Simon Bolivar.

Leading up to the celebrations marking 200 years since the start of the process that led to the country's eventual independence from Spain, he called for a civil-military celebration in the Avenue of the Independence Heroes.

As a result, his supporters have turned out in their thousands - bussed into Caracas from across Venezuela.

This has been a pro-Chavez party like no other.

A parade drawn from every sector of society has trooped past the socialist leader - including Venezuela's Olympic athletes, Afro-Caribbean descendants and indigenous groups.

The military has been ever-present too, with F-16 fighter jets screaming overhead.

Everywhere are red T-shirts, red baseball caps and Venezuelan flags.

Opening the celebrations, President Chavez said his socialist revolution was "part of the same battle as Simon Bolivar's" and many of his supporters agree.

"I completely agree - this is the dream of our liberator, Simon Bolivar, that we create Latin American unity - one nation, one people," said one man.

Another reveller talked of a "struggle for resistance".

"The indigenous people in the parade, for example, are fighting against deculturalisation - having a culture imposed which we don't want," she said.

However Mr Chavez's opponents remain sceptical.

For them, the display of so much military and armed civilian might is a demonstration of how radicalised and divided Venezuela has become under Mr Chavez.

They do not share the sentiment that the 200-year anniversary is a reason for celebration given, they say, the way in which Mr Chavez has used the memory of Bolivar to further his own ends.

But whether Venezuelans agree with him or not, Mr Chavez will be glad of a strong dose of national pride with just a few months to go before crucial elections.

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