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Venezuela prosecutors oppose military trial for unrest

© AFP / by Maria Isabel SANCHEZ | Demonstrators are sprayed by a riot police water cannon, during a march against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, on May 10, 2017

CARACAS (AFP) - 

Venezuelan prosecutors Wednesday challenged plans to try suspects in military courts for unrest which saw a statue of late president Hugo Chavez destroyed in protest at the government.

Human rights groups say scores of people have been brought before military courts after being detained in recent weeks of clashes between police and protesters.

The case challenged on Wednesday involves suspects in the northwestern town of Villa del Rosario de Perija, where protesters knocked down the statue and tried to set fire to the town hall.

State prosecutors "requested that the 14 people detained on May 5 suspected of being responsible for the damage caused in the town hall of Villa del Rosario de Perija and on the square there be judged by civil and not military courts," the department said in a statement.

Citing the constitution, it said "the people must be tried by regular judges" in civil courts since they are not military personnel and the alleged crimes do not come under military jurisdiction.

A lawyer for rights group Foro Penal, Alfredo Romero, said 73 people are in custody after being charged by military courts with "rebellion."

Venezuela's chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega has broken ranks with the government to speak out against detentions of protestors.

Foro Penal says the military courts were a way for authorities to try cases that she had dismissed.

Maduro has yet to respond to the reports, which have raised claims of an authoritarian turn in Venezuela's political crisis.

Government officials have not confirmed the arrests, or the military processing of civilian suspects.

- Poo-poo bombs -

Clashes between protesters and riot cops have left 36 people dead and hundreds injured since unrest erupted on April 1, according to authorities.

Demonstrators blame Maduro for an economic crisis that has caused food shortages in the oil-rich state.

His move to reform the constitution has further inflamed protesters, who say it is a ploy to resist calls for early elections.

Protesters on Wednesday came on to the streets armed with "poopootov cocktails," jars filled with excrement which they vowed to hurl at police.

"We are using those 'poopootov' bombs as we call them because they repress us with Molotov cocktails, with pellet guns and everything, and this is our only way to throw something at them," one protester told AFP.

"The government is arbitrarily attacking us, whereas we are seeking a way to protest that we need a change of government -- and that is not the same thing."

The latest protest march in Caracas aimed to march to the Supreme Court, which has passed measures they say aim to strengthen Maduro's grip on power.

by Maria Isabel SANCHEZ

© 2017 AFP