Tue, Mar 25, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Venezuela’s top prosecutor admits to police abuse

AFP and Reuters, CARACAS

Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz acknowledged on Sunday that demonstrators have been abused during weeks of protests that have rocked the country and 60 complaints — including murder allegations against police — are being probed.

“Yes, there has been police excess, we are not going to deny that... we are investigating,” Luisa Ortega Diaz told local television station Televen.

Among the 60 possible cases, “there are three police officers from Chacao who are accused of having allegedly committed murder,” she said.

Ortega said that authorities have detained 15 officials, but added that instances of abuse were isolated and not a result of orders from above.

Venezuela has been shaken by near daily protests that began on Feb. 4, fueled by public anger over violent crime, inflation, shortages of such basic goods as toilet paper and further stoked by often heavy-handed police tactics.

At least 31 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in the student-led protests that represent the biggest challenge yet to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The top prosecutor added that, of those killed in the violence, “six were public officials, one of whom one was a public prosecutor.”

Several weeks ago, the government reported that five intelligence agents had been detained for their alleged involvement in the deaths of two protesters after Caracas’s first massive demonstration on Feb. 12.

The Foro Penal rights group has said it has found 59 cases of possible torture by security agents against protesters.

Meanwhile, the National Union of Press Workers on Sunday said a total of 74 media members were abused by police during the more than six weeks of anti-government protests.

The union voiced “concern at repeated human rights abuses in recent weeks in Venezuela especially attacks and other violence against journalists, cameramen, photographers and other media.”

It also denounced police aggression at protests during which journalists were detained and equipment was destroyed. The organization said two journalists were detained on Saturday, as 20,000 people marched in Caracas in the Altamira region of Chacao during a police and national guard operation against protesters who attempted to block roads. Only one of the journalists was later released.

Also on Sunday, the US embassy in Venezuela said it was suspending appointments for new tourist visas due to a lack of personnel following the expulsion of consular staff last month.

Last month, the Maduro government expelled three consular officers on charges they were recruiting students to participate in the protests.

The US Department of State denied those accusations.

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