Students lift strike in Venezuela

CARACAS: More than 150 Venezuelan university students ended a hunger strike Wednesday after the Organization of American States agreed to hear their concerns over alleged political persecution by President Hugo Chavez's government, a protest leader said.

The strike began last Thursday when 10 students set up cots outside the Washington-based organization's office in Caracas and vowed to consume only water until its Inter-American Commission of Human Rights promised to launch a probe.

Some students sewed their mouths shut. At least six abandoned the strike earlier Wednesday to seek medical treatment, said Angel Arellano, a student who participated in the protest.

On Wednesday, student activist Rebeca Rojas said representatives of the OAS's human rights agency had invited a student delegation to Washington.

"The objective has been reached," said Rojas, adding that the hunger strike had been lifted.

Chavez, who has not publicly commented on the protest, denies allegations that his government is bringing trumped-up criminal charges against his critics.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega says Chavez adversaries who have been arrested committed crimes ranging from disturbing the peace to assaulting police officers.

Roughly 40 Chavez foes are in prison, most of them awaiting trial on protest-related charges, according to local human rights organizations.

The Venezuelan Penal Forum rights group says more than 2,000 Chavez opponents have gone to trial in the last seven years on charges stemming from their participation in protests.

Most were charged with misdemeanors and released. But some were prohibited from joining future demonstrations, and others barred from leaving their hometowns or publicly discussing their cases.

Education Minister Hector Navarro called the hunger strike "a media show," noting that television channels and radio stations had been broadcasting live from the sidewalks outside the OAS offices.