Venezuelan street protests stretch through holiday; 18 killed
A demonstrator covers his face with a home made gas mask during anti-government protests in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. (AP /Fernando Llano)
Fabiola Sanchez, The Associated Press
Published Friday, February 28, 2014 10:35PM EST
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Scattered barricades blocked streets and protesters battled police in some Caracas neighbourhoods Friday even while life went on as usual in others as a political standoff persisted through the second day of national holidays.
In spite of the long weekend heading into three days of Carnaval, student-led demonstrations have so far maintained a street presence, not just in the capital, but also in cities including Valencia, Merida and San Cristobal.
In that context, President Nicolas Maduro forged ahead with a new round of televised peace meetings Friday. He announced his intention to establish similar conferences in all states. Absent were members of the opposition, who refuse to open a dialogue until Maduro releases protesters from jail and stops harsh crackdowns on protests.
"I believe the country would win if we see each other face to face and talk," Maduro said. He also announced that national guardsman Giovanny Jose Hernandez Pantoja died Friday after being shot in the eye while he and others removed debris from a street in Valencia.
But that appears unlikely to happen with one opposition leader in jail and an arrest order out for another.
About two weeks of student-led protests mostly in middle-class neighbourhoods have left 18 dead. Venezuelans face inflation that hit 56 per cent last year, scarcity of basic necessities and runaway violent crime.
At a human rights demonstration in a well-off part of east Caracas, several hundred protesters waved Venezuelan flags and held signs with the photos of those killed during demonstrations. "There's not going to be peace until there's justice," said 32-year-old hairdresser Amanda Valero.
Later Friday night, violence erupted and dozens of protesters threw rocks and molotov cocktails against National Guard members who fired rubber bullets and water cannons. State television reported that 41 people had been detained.
But in the massive slum of Petare life marched on normally with hundreds of street vendors pushing their wares at its central circle.
"The people of Petare are warriors, the people of Petare don't stop for anything," said Yuly Chacon, a 27-year-old teacher. "Those (protests) are the things of the wealthy areas."
Mildri Villegas, a 29-year-old homemaker there, said the protests were a waste of time. "If you don't work, you don't eat. You have to work to survive."
Venezuela's chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz announced Friday the shooting death of a youth who was cleaning a street in Carabobo state one day earlier.
The United Nations human rights chief called Friday for the Venezuelan government to respect peaceful assemblies and expressed concern about the use of excessive force against protesters. And U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington would consider its options in light of a Senate proposal to deny and revoke visas and freeze assets of Venezuelans linked to government repression.
Venezuelan authorities say they have arrested eight members of the domestic spy agency on murder charges, as well as three national guard soldiers and three police officers.
"The Venezuelan state has acted to punish, to sanction those persons who appear responsible for human rights violations," Ortega Diaz, the chief prosecutor said.