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Troops clear Caracas square as protests claim 29th victim

© Photo: AFP

Video by Mark THOMPSON

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-18

A Venezuela National Guard captain died on Monday after being shot in the head during a demonstration, the military said, the 29th fatality in six weeks of clashes between protesters and security forces.

General Padrino Lopez, head of the armed forces' strategic operational command, said the captain was shot late on Sunday at a street barricade set up by demonstrators in the central city of Maracay, in Aragua state.

"He was another victim of terrorist violence," Lopez said on Twitter, calling for an end to confrontations.

"Our armed forces don't repress peaceful protests, they protect them ... Much more Venezuelan blood would have been shed if it were not for the responsible actions of our National Guard."

Caracas square ‘liberated’

In Caracas, security forces took control of a plaza that has been at the heart of the anti-government protests.

Clusters of National Guardsmen patrolled Plaza Altamira and the principal streets extending from it while dozens of green-vested workers swept up debris that protesters used to block streets in the middle- and upper-class neighbourhoods of eastern Caracas.

Other troops patrolled surrounding neighbourhoods on motorcycles, with officials making the takeover a public relations event. At least four Venezuelan government ministers were present giving interviews about the plaza’s “liberation”.

The protesters, which are demanding political change, an end to high inflation, shortages of basic foods and rampant crime, show no signs of toppling President Nicolas Maduro. A 51-year-old former bus driver, Maduro narrowly won an election in April 2013 to replace his late mentor, Hugo Chavez, although he failed to match his charismatic leadership style.

The armed forces seem to be firmly behind Maduro, and the protesters are far fewer than those who took to the streets a decade ago to oust Chavez, albeit briefly. Opposition leaders, meanwhile, are deeply divided over the current confrontations.

Air Canada cuts flights

Meanwhile on Monday, Air Canada said it had suspended its flights to and from Venezuela due to the unrest.

In a statement posted on its website, the airline says it can no longer ensure the safety of its operation in Venezuela.

The airline’s last flight left Caracas on Sunday. It is offering refunds to those who have purchased tickets for flights after that.

President Nicolas Maduro said Friday any airline that reduced or suspended flights in and out of Venezuela would face severe measures.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-03-18

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