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Americas

Venezuelan intelligence arrests opposition mayor over unrest

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-20

Venezuelan intelligence agents arrested the opposition mayor of San Cristobal on Wednesday, accusing him of stoking violence in the city, which has been a crucible of anti-government resistance and which spawned the current wave of protests.

Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez said San Cristobal Mayor Daniel Ceballos was detained on charges of fuelling "civilian uprising" and supporting violence in his city in the western state of Tachira.

Prosecutors “issued an arrest warrant... for [fomenting] civilian uprising,” which the Bolivarian Intelligence Service carried out, Rodriguez said on state TV channel, VTV.

“This is an act of justice for a mayor who not only did not meet his obligations as required by law and the constitution, but also facilitated and supported all the irrational violence in San Cristobal,” he said.

Ceballos is the second opposition figure of the Popular Will party to be detained over the deadly protests, the biggest challenge yet to President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government.

The group's leader, Leopoldo Lopez, has been detained for over a month in a military facility near Caracas on charges of arson and conspiracy.

Hotel arrest

Ceballos, who was in Caracas for a meeting of opposition mayors, had been outspoken in his criticism of what he called repression by security forces in his city.

His aide, Ronni Pavolini, said he was arrested by agents from the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, known by its Spanish initials, SEBIN.

“They took him out of the hotel in Caracas and took him to Helicoide [SEBIN headquarters],” Pavolini told AP.

The anti-government protests that have shaken Venezuela for more than a month began in early February with students in San Cristobal, an opposition stronghold along the border with Colombia.

Since then the Latin American country has seen intense clashes between authorities and protesters frustrated by soaring inflation, rampant violent crime and shortages of basic items such as cooking oil and toilet paper.

Maduro contends the protests are part of a "fascist" right-wing, US-backed plot to destabilise his year-old government.

Death count rises

Late on Wednesday, the federal prosecutor’s office said that, according to preliminary information, National Guardsman Jhon Rafael Castillo Castillo, 23, was killed while breaking up protests near a local university in San Cristobal, making him the fifth National Guardsmen killed during the protests.

Meanwhile, about 25 kilometres (15 miles) from San Cristobal, National Guardsmen firing plastic shotgun pellets and tear gas wounded at least 16 people in the town of Rubio as they cleared barricades that had been in place for weeks, local officials said.

Rubio residents reported an intense effort by the National Guard to clear protesters’ barricades that had sealed off neighbourhoods.

“The situation is terrible here,” Francisco Rincon, vice president of the Rubio municipal council, told AP. He said soldiers with rifles were on the street corners. He said he had counted 16 wounded, four of them by bullets.

Rincon, who is a member of Popular Will, said their supporters had protested peacefully in the morning before being dispersed by tear gas and plastic buckshot by National Guardsmen and pro-government civilians.

In Caracas, officials said a municipal worker was shot and killed while removing a street barricade in a middle-class neighbourhood. His death raised the number of people killed in the protests to at least 31.

The federal prosecutor’s office said Francisco Alcides Madrid Rosendo, 32, was shot multiple times at around 10 pm on Tuesday while he and others were taking down a barricade in the Montalban neighbourhood in Caracas’s western section.

Pro-government Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodriguez took to Twitter to blame unnamed “terrorists” for the killing, but provided no other details.

Opposition targeted

Besides authorities arresting Ceballos and Lopez, Venezuela’s National Assembly on Tuesday voted to start a process to strip opposition lawmaker Maria Corina Machado of her immunity so they could eventually bring charges against her for allegedly trying to destabilise the government.

Machado was expected to speak on Friday at a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington about the situation in Venezuela. Because the Venezuelan government controls the country’s seat, Panama has offered Machado its own seat to make her presentation to the regional body.

Machado told a reporter from AP who was on the same flight to Miami on Wednesday that she was “very worried” about the effort to bring criminal charges against her.

“It’s fundamental that the world understand what’s happening in our country,” she said of her upcoming appearance before the OAS.

The body earlier this month approved a declaration supporting President Maduro’s efforts to start a dialogue with the political opposition.

Panama, the United States and Canada voted against it.

(FRANCE 24 and AP, AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-03-20

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