Venezuelan troops on Thursday rounded up hundreds of youth activists and dismantled camps set up in protest against President Nicolas Maduro, sparking clashes across the capital that left one policeman dead.
Pre-dawn raids by National Guard troops broke up four tent camps maintained by student activists in the capital of the OPEC member nation.
After the raids, hundreds of demonstrators and residents poured onto the streets, setting up barricades, a common tactic during three months of unrest. The protests had waned in recent weeks even as sporadic clashes continued.
Masked youths hurled stones and petrol bombs, while police fired tear gas in upmarket east Caracas. One police officer died of bullet wounds, among five people injured, authorities said. Witnesses said shots were fired from buildings down into the streets.
“A sniper killed the policeman while he was cleaning debris left by these violent, murderous protesters,” Maduro said during an address to the nation. “He was vilely killed.” Troops cleared away the remnants of the camps, where students from all over the country had lived in tents, chanting and strumming guitars beneath banners with anti-government slogans, such as “Maduro, assassin.”
Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said soldiers arrested 243 people, accusing the students of using the camps as a base of operations to stage violent demonstrations in other parts of the city.
“[Troops] impounded drugs, weapons, explosives ... all of the things that they were using every day to violently confront security forces,” Torres told state television.
Venezuela has been gripped by unrest since February, after student protests against Maduro’s government took a violent turn. Official figures show 42 have been killed and nearly 800 injured. About 3,000 people have been arrested, with Thursday’s round-up leaving about 450 people still in detention.
Maduro’s administration has grown increasingly fed up with the demonstrations, and announced last week that it had arrested 58 foreigners, including an American, on suspicion of inciting violent street protests against the government. Both Maduro and Torres have denounced what they say is a plot to promote unrest aimed at overthrowing the administration.
US sanctions bill
Opponents have repeatedly rejected the government’s frequent allegations of coup attempts, calling them an effort to distract attention from the country’s problems. They say the protests arise from widespread discontent with the country’s 57 percent inflation, record product shortages, and authoritarian practices.
The latest clashes come as the United States Congress moves closer to imposing economic sanctions against Venezuela’s government.
State Department officials will brief a Senate committee Thursday on the violent street protests that have rocked the country for weeks, and a House panel will finalise its version of a sanctions bill Friday.
The legislation in both chambers is relatively modest. It centres on $15 million in new funds to promote democracy and rule of law in the South American country. It also bans visas for Venezuelan officials who crushed anti-government protests by students, opposition leaders and others and freezes their assets.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-05-08