Sun, Mar 02, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Venezuela protesters, security clash

CRACKDOWN:The death toll linked to the protests that started on Feb. 4 stood at 18, while 72 were still being detained, the Venezuelan attorney general said

AFP, CARACAS

At least 41 people, including foreign reporters, were arrested in Caracas late on Friday as security forces battled protesters angry at the policies of Venezuela’s leftist government.

National Guard security forces blasted the student-led demonstrators with high-pressure water and fired tear gas canisters into the crowds in an attempt to break up the protest. Hooded protesters set up barricades and responded by hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails.

The death toll from three-week street battles stood at 18, according to government figures.

With no sign of a breakthrough in the political crisis gripping the oil-rich country, Washington urged Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to talk to the protesters.

“They need to reach out and have a dialogue, and bring people together and resolve their problems,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said in Washington, urging against “arrests and violence in the streets.”

Kerry said the US was working with Colombia and other countries to bolster mediation efforts.

Maduro has labeled the protests that began on Feb. 4 a Washington-backed attempted “coup.”

He claims that radical opposition leaders have joined students angered by high inflation and goods shortage in plotting to topple his nearly year-old government.

Eight of those detained were foreigners “and are being held for international terrorism,” state VTV television said in a brief statement.

Venezuela’s journalist association SNTP said that one of the foreigners was US freelance reporter Andrew Rosati, who writes for the Miami Herald.

Rosati was detained for half an hour and released after being “struck in the face and his abdomen” by security forces, the SNTP, said on Twitter.

The group also said that Italian photographer Francesca Commissari, who works for the local daily El Nacional, was being held.

Security forces made the arrests at a protest in the Plaza Altamira, in the city’s wealthy Chacao District.

In a separate incident, Maduro said that National Guard members were “ambushed” and shot at while removing debris from the streets of Valencia, Venezuela’s economic hub. One died from a shot in the eye and another was shot twice in the leg.

“All these things are aimed at triggering a backlash from security forces,” Maduro said from the Miraflores presidential palace, where he spoke with representatives of various political and social sectors.

Protest organizer Alfredo Romero, president of the Venezuelan Penal Forum, said 33 cases of “cruel and inhuman treatment or torture” have been reported to the public ombudsman.

One of the cases involves an alleged rape with a rifle of a young man arrested by the National Guard.

The Venezuelan government said it was investigating 27 cases of human rights abuses, though it provided no details of possible wrongdoing.

Some of the deaths have been attributed to violent clashes with police, but other victims have been shot by unidentified gunmen, whom the protesters have accused of being government agents.

The government has denied all links to such killings.

Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz said that the death toll linked to the protests stood at 18, while of the 1,044 that had been detained, 72 remain behind bars.

The US Congress has condemned “inexcusable” violence against anti-government protesters, calling for a dialogue to end the crisis and urging US President Barack Obama to impose sanctions on those responsible for the crackdown.

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