Hotels shelter flood-hit Venezuelans

Venezuelan soldiers moved into privately-owned hotels to help accommodate some of the thousands of people forced from their homes by flooding and mudslides following weeks of torrential rains.

Venezuelan soldiers moved into privately-owned hotels to help accommodate some of the thousands of people forced from their homes by flooding and mudslides following weeks of torrential rains.

The occupation - unopposed by the hotel owners - appeared to be a show of force as criticism of President Hugo Chavez' handling of the disaster has grown.

The state-run AVN news agency quoted National Guard commander Luis Alfredo Motta as saying the hotel owners were willingly collaborating with the military.

"We are always open to helping, but within a cordial relationship in which the rules are clear," Ricardo Cusanno, vice president of the National Federation of Hotels, told the local Globovision television channel.

Mr Cusanno said 19 hotels in Venezuela's capital Caracas had already have opened their doors to people driven from their homes.

Soldiers are helping organise shelter for displaced people at three tourism hotels in the coastal town of Higuerote - one of the communities hit hardest by the floods.

Mr Motta said authorities were also holding talks with the owners of eight other hotels in the state of Miranda to determine if they would join the initiative.

More than two weeks of constant rains across the nation of 28 million have caused flooding and mudslides that have killed at least 34 people and left more than 5,000 homeless. More than 100,000 people had taken refuge at hundreds of shelters, defence minister Carlos Mata Figueroa said.

Mr Chavez also declared a "state of emergency" in the states of Zulia, Merida, Nueva Esparta and Trujillo yesterday. He said his government would open some of the country's military barracks and other public institutions to Venezuelans driven from their homes.

The government has declared a state of emergency in the capital and three states - Miranda, Vargas and Falcon.

Rain pounded the western states bordering Colombia over the weekend. The country's wet season usually ends in mid-November.

Chavez opponents have argued that the government's response has been inadequate and say he has failed during his 11-year rule to meet rising demand for low-income housing.

Growing numbers of poor Venezuelans have resorted to building in slums that skirt the major cities, they say.

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