Mon, Feb 24, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Venezuelan protest death toll increases

WITHOUT MERCY:Opposition protesters in Caracas waved large photographs of suspected state security officers appearing to fire pistols at demonstrators

Reuters, CARACAS

A demonstrator stands near a car set on fire to block a road during a protest against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in San Cristobal, capital of the western border state of Tachira on Saturday.

Photo: AFP

A female student and a young supermarket worker were the latest fatalities from Venezuela’s political unrest as the death toll from 10 days of violence rose on Saturday to at least eight.

Both sides are mourning supporters killed in the worst turmoil since Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro narrowly won an election in April last year to replace former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

The government blames “fascist groups” seeking a coup like the one that briefly ousted Chavez 12 years ago, while the opposition is accusing troops and pro-Maduro militants of attacking peaceful demonstrators.

Opposition officials and local media in central Carabobo state said a 23-year-old student, Geraldine Moreno, died in hospital on Saturday after being shot in the face with rubber bullets as security forces broke up a protest there on Feb. 19.

“They told us there was nothing more they could do,” Moreno’s distraught mother, Rosa Orozco, told a local paper.

Officials in the capital, Caracas, said a 29-year-old man, Santiago Enrique Pedroza, was killed late on Friday when he rode his motorcycle into a cable strung across a main road in the eastern, middle-class neighborhood of Horizonte.

Anti-government protesters have repeatedly blocked streets in the area with trash, which they sometimes set on fire. Police and National Guard troops have often used teargas to scatter demonstrators before clearing away the obstacles.

“He was on his way home, he couldn’t see the cable because of the darkness, and it slit his throat,” Venezuelan Minister of the Interior Miguel Rodriguez Torres told state television. “This was a young, hard-working man who had nothing to do with the insanity unleashed by these fascist right-wing murderers.”

Five people have died from gunshot wounds, beginning on Feb. 12 when two opposition supporters and a pro-government loyalist were shot after a peaceful opposition protest in central Caracas degenerated into running battles between riot police and hooded demonstrators.

Two other people were shot dead at protests around the country in the following days and a sixth was run over by a car during a melee.

At dusk on Saturday, a couple of hundred opposition supporters hurled stones at police who fired back teargas near east Caracas’ Plaza Altamira, a hotbed of opposition activism that has seen similar scuffles most nights in the past week.

The focus for the most serious trouble had been in the western states of Tachira and Merida, where the government has vowed to take “special measures” to restore order.

Residents said the situation in general was calmer than of late, but an opposition official said four people were hurt when government supporters on motorbikes attacked an opposition march in San Cristobal, capital of Tachira state.

In the center of the capital and in the provincial cities of Lara, Aragua and Trujillo, tens of thousands of government supporters decked out in mostly Socialist red marched on Saturday at festive rallies dubbed “Women for Peace.”

“We don’t want any more deaths,” Venezuelan Minister for Women and Gender Equality Andreina Tarazon said at the demonstration in Caracas.

“The people have decided to be free, and like a mother defends her child, that’s how we’ll defend the fatherland,” she added.

Meanwhile in Caracas, just a few blocks from where the motorcyclist died overnight, several thousand opposition supporters gathered in the El Marques neighborhood to hear speeches and chant slogans.

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