Police in protest-hit Venezuela stepped up a campaign of arrests and raids on Thursday, as authorities said the death toll from more than a month of anti-government demonstrations had risen to 28.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has vowed to take “drastic measures” to quell the student-led protest movement launched on Feb. 4, fueled by public fury over deteriorating living conditions in the oil-rich country.
Violent crime, shortages of essential goods like toilet paper and inflation have combined to create the most serious challenge yet for Maduro, who succeeded former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez last year.
Police on Thursday arrested six people in a pre-dawn raid in the city of Valencia, where two civilians and a police officer were shot dead on Wednesday.
In the evening, about 30 people were detained in Caracas.
And late on Thursday about 100 demonstrators wearing hoods clashed with riot police in the same area and set fire to one of their motorcycles. No injuries were reported.
Authorities seized weapons, plastic explosives and incendiary devices in Valencia, Maduro said, adding that searches were ongoing.
Earlier in the day, Venezuelan state prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz — speaking on the sidelines of the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva — said 28 people had been killed and 365 injured since the protests first erupted.
“What began in Venezuela as a peaceful demonstration has been transformed into violence and chaos,” Ortega Diaz said.
However, in Washington, US Secretary of State John Kerry — using his strongest language to date on the lingering crisis — called for an end to what he called a “terror campaign” by Maduro’s government.
Kerry, speaking before US lawmakers, called on the international community to “focus on Venezuela appropriately.”
“We are engaged now with trying to find a way to get the Maduro government to engage with their citizens, to treat them respectfully, to end this terror campaign against his own people and to begin to hopefully respect human rights and the appropriate way of treating his people,” he said.
The protests, which began in the western city of San Cristobal, have since spread to Caracas and several other cities.