Venezuela must probe protest deaths: UN

AFP , Friday 14 Feb 2014

Demonstrators block a street with signs as they shout anti-government slogans to protest the detention of four students in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014 (Photo: AP)

Venezuela must bring to justice those responsible for attacks that left three people dead and scores injured during anti-government protests this week, the UN's human rights office said Friday.

"We are deeply concerned about the escalation of violence, and in particular, the death of at least three people during demonstrations in Caracas on Wednesday," said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights.

"Perpetrators should be prosecuted and those found responsible for acts of violence, and in particular deaths, should be sanctioned with appropriate penalties," he told reporters.

A pro-government demonstrator and two student opposition protestors died in Wednesday's unrest, which led to a security crackdown in cities across a country where the economy has been battered by inflation of more than 50 percent a year.

Thousands of people in the capital Caracas had protested against rampant crime, inflation and shortages of basic goods in the biggest challenge to Venezuela's leftist government since President Nicolas Maduro took over from the late Hugo Chavez last year.

"We are especially concerned at reports of attacks on demonstrators by armed groups acting with impunity. We are also concerned that this situation could trigger further outbreaks of violence and that of cycle of violence may take place," Colville said.

On Thursday, 2,000 students again defied the authorities on the streets of Caracas.

Maduro has warned that the protests mark a coup attempt, and has vowed he will not be overthrown.

His government has urged people to demonstrate in "anti-fascism" rallies, but they have failed to draw crowds.

"We have also received worrying reports of intimidation of journalists, some of whom have had their equipment seized, as well as reports that some local and international journalists were attacked while covering the protests," said Colville.

"In addition, some protestors have reportedly been detained and may be prosecuted on terrorism charges. It has also been reported that some protestors, including minors, are being denied contact with family or lawyers," he added.

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