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Venezuela president fires military brass amid unrest

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Caracas (AFP)

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro fired four top military commanders Tuesday including the head of a police force that is accused of attacking anti-government protesters during months of deadly unrest.

The commander of the National Guard military police, General Antonio Benavides Torres, will move on to "new responsibilities and battles," Maduro told supporters in a speech.

He said he was also replacing the heads of the army, navy and the central strategic command body.

The armed forces have maintained their public backing for Maduro in more than a year of mounting volatility in the oil-rich, crisis-struck state.

Analysts say the support of the military is key to keeping the socialist president in power in the face of pressure from the opposition over a desperate economic crisis.

Maduro said he was confirming the overall head of the armed forces, Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez, in his post, calling him "a loyal, moral man."

The president added that he was ordering 20,000 new police and a similar number of new National Guards to be recruited.

Prosecutors say 74 people have been killed since April in violence during daily protests by demonstrators demanding elections to remove Maduro from office.

Padrino this month warned the security forces not to commit "atrocities," after some police were filmed attacking and robbing protesters.

On Monday, a 17-year-old boy became the latest casualty of the unrest when he was shot in the chest and killed in Altamira on the capital's east side, officials said.

Video footage filmed by AFP and other media showed uniformed security officers firing at a group of protesters who were carrying makeshift shields during that clash.

Military affairs analyst Rocio San Miguel said the incident indicated that "Padrino Lopez and now Benavides Torres have lost authority over their subordinates."

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