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New deaths as Unasur sends mission to Caracas

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Elías Jaua attends an extraordinary session of the Unasur bloc in Santiago, Chile, yesterday.
Bloc ratifies support for ‘democracy and institutions’ in Venezuela; three killed in Valencia

SANTIAGO — A Union of South American Nations (Unasur) meeting of foreign ministers that convened in Santiago to analyze unrest in Venezuela ended last night with a resolution to send a mission to Caracas “to support the broad and constructive political dialogue” that the Venezuelan government seeks, Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman said.
The resolution by the regional bloc comes after another day marked by violent protests in Venezuela, during which three people died in the central city of Valencia.
Timerman underlined that Unasur ratified the defence “of democratic values based on dialogue and the respect of institutions” and “condemned violence.”
The bloc’s foreign ministers met in Santiago, Chile, following the inauguration of President Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday.

Three dead in Valencia

A university student, a National Guard captain and a third man were shot to death in separate incidents yesterday as anti-government protests roiled the central Venezuelan city of Valencia.

Three National Guardsmen and several protesters were injured.

Two of the deaths came in the opposition-dominated Isabelica neighbourhood, where residents have protested for weeks by blocking streets and throwing stones at police.

Valencia Mayor Miguel Cocchiola said a man was killed and six people injured in Isabelica. The newspaper Notitarde de Valencia said the dead man’s cousin, Luis Acosta, identified him as 20-year-old student Jesús Enrique Acosta and said he was killed near his home by men on motorcycles, but it was unclear if the victim was participating in a protest.

The opposition has accused the government of supporting armed civilian thugs who attack protests.

The mayor later said through his Twitter account that another man, 42-year-old Guillermo Sánchez, also died from a gunshot wound in Isabelica. He said Sánchez was painting the front of his house when he was shot.

Carabobo state Governor Francisco Ameliach, who supports the Socialist government of President Nicolás Maduro, announced via Twitter that National Guard Captain Ramso Ernesto Bracho Bravo was also killed in Valencia. The federal prosecutor’s office had reported earlier that a lieutenant colonel and two National Guardsmen were wounded by gunshots while clearing a barricade blocking a highway in the city.

A month of student-led demonstrations in a number of Venezuelan cities has left at least 25 people dead, according to the government. Venezuelans fed up with inflation that reached 56 percent last year, long lines for buying some items at grocery stores and one of the highest homicide rates in the world have joined students in protesting against the government.

Yesterday’s death toll matched the highest single day total exactly one month after that mark was set February 12.

Maduro’s governing bloc, which easily won municipal elections in December, shows no sign of collapse. The president accuses the opposition of trying to instigate his overthrow, but his party controls the legislature and judiciary, retains the support of the military and counts as members the governors of all but three states.

After mentioning the Valencia violence to a group of students at a government rally, Maduro said he would convene a special meeting of his security Cabinet yesterday evening. “I’m going to take drastic measures with all of these sectors that are attacking and killing the Venezuelan people,” he said.

In the national capital of Caracas, pro- and anti-government student groups approaching 10,000 people staged competing marches. When the larger opposition group tried to move toward the chief public defender’s office to demand his resignation, security forces blocked the way. After negotiations failed to break the impasse, some protesters hurled stones and National Guard troops responded with water cannons and tear gas.

Jorge Olivares, a 21-year-old chemical engineering student at Simón Bolívar University who joined the anti-government march, said the protests would not push Maduro from office, but expressed hope that the general discontent would guarantee a win for the opposition in the next election.

He also said security forces seemed to be getting tougher in dealing with the daily protests.

“Something has changed,” Olivares said. “Each time there’s more repression.”

US: ‘We have become an excuse’

In Washington, US Secretary of State John Kerry left open the possibility of sanctions, but said there was concern that in Venezuela’s fragile economic state sanctions might not be appropriate.

He said Maduro’s frequent accusations that the US is participating in a conspiracy against his government have made it difficult for the US to influence the situation.

“We have become an excuse, we are a card they play,” Kerry said. “I regret that because we pretty much opened up and reached out in an effort to say, ‘It doesn’t have to be this way.”’

The Organization of American States voted last week to support efforts by Maduro’s government to resolve the turmoil through dialogue. The US, Canada and Panama voted against the resolution. The political opposition and student leaders have refused to speak with the government until it releases jailed protesters.

On Tuesday, the US Senate Foreign Relations committee unanimously approved a resolution calling for US President Barack Obama to deny visas and freeze assets of those responsible for human rights violations in Venezuela.

Herald with AP

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