28 killed, 365 injured in Venezuela protests: Attorney general

AFP , Thursday 13 Mar 2014

A total of 28 people have been killed and 365 injured in anti-government protests rocking Venezuela, the country's top prosecutor said Thursday, lamenting an atmosphere of "violence and chaos".

"In all there have been 28 deaths" since the protests first erupted in early February, Luisa Ortega Diaz said on the sidelines of the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva.

"What began in Venezuela as a peaceful demonstration has been transformed into violence and chaos," she said, speaking a day after some 3,000 students marched in Caracas and similar numbers gathered in other cities to mark a month since the first deaths in weeks of demonstrations.

On Wednesday, police fired tear gas and water cannon at scores of rock-hurling students in the capital, as a student and civilian died in the country's third city Valencia and a member of the Bolivarian National Guard died in clashes in the nearby city of Naguanagua.

Speaking to a conference organised by the Venezuelan government on the country's "progress and achievements" in the area of human rights, Ortega Diaz said a prosecutor and three members of the national guard were among the dead.

One hundred and nine members of the national guard or Venezuelan national police force were also among the 365 injured, she said.

"The right to demonstrate is not absolute," she told the conference, insisting that "citizens have the right to demonstrate peacefully and without weapons".

She said police had seized 25 firearms, plastic explosives and more than 200 incendiary devices.

Since the protests began, opposition leaders and students, as well as government authorities, have accused each other of backing radical groups that attack demonstrations with firearms.

The anti-government protests first erupted on February 4 in the western city of San Cristobal, and reached Caracas on February 12 when three people were killed in clashes with security forces.

The demonstrations have been fuelled by public fury over deteriorating living conditions in the oil-rich South American country.

Violent crime, shortages of essential goods like toilet paper and inflation have combined to create the most serious challenge yet for leftist President Nicolas Maduro.

At Thursday's conference, US Deputy Assistant State Secretary for Human Rights, Scott Busby, took the floor to criticise the Venezuelan government.

"The government's arbitrary detention and excessive use of force against protesters and journalists, lack of due process, and the shutdown of foreign media and Internet, endanger human rights," he insisted, calling for a "thorough investigation into the violence".

A number of other diplomats meanwhile spoke out in support of Venezuela, including representatives of Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Russia and China.

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