23 Feb 2014

Venezuela: eight die in violent clashes

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

Both sides are mourning supporters killed in the worst turmoil since President Nicolas Maduro narrowly won an election in April 2013 to replace the late socialist leader 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 19 February.

“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 neighbourhood of Horizonte.

Video: Supporters of the government and the opposition hold rival mass rallies in Caracas

Teargas used on protesters

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,” Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said of Pedroza on state television. “This was a young, hard-working man who had nothing to do with the insanity unleashed by these fascist right-wing murderers,” he added.

Five people have died from gunshot wounds, beginning on 12 February when two opposition supporters and a pro-government loyalist were shot after a peaceful opposition protest in central Caracas that 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.

Video from 21 February: Is Venezuela burning while the world watches Ukraine?

‘Special measures’ to restore order

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

Both sides marched in the two states yesterday, but residents said the situation appeared calmer, with no new reports of clashes, injuries or arrests.

In the centre 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,””Andreina Tarazon, minister for women and gender equality, 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.”

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