January 19, 2018
Saturday, February 22, 2014

Venezuela deaths rise as unrest claims student and biker

People attend a march during a protest against the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, on February 22, 2014. (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 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 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 neighbourhood 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," Interior Minister 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," Torres said.

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 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 neighborhood to hear speeches and chant slogans.

"We're against violence. This a peaceful demonstration, 100 percent," said student Juan Perez, 25, as he purchased a yellow, blue and red hat - the colors of the Venezuelan flag.

Nearby, some opposition protesters waved large photographs of suspected state security agents captured on video appearing to fire pistols at demonstrators who were hurling stones at police after the Feb. 12 march.

Speaking at a news conference late on Friday, Maduro said he would not defend anyone shooting at protesters.

"After I saw the photos I had them detained," he said, referring to the agents, widely believed to be members of the national intelligence service, Sebin.

"If any of them was involved in someone being wounded by a bullet, or in one of the deaths, they will pay with prison. I won't protect anyone who shoots anyone else at a demonstration," he said.

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Tags:  Latin America  Venezuela  Maduro  Protests  

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