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Thursday 28 August 2014

Officer killed in Venezuela clashes

Published 09/05/2014 | 06:22

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Bolivarian National Guard soldiers load a truck with students belongings as they dismantle student camps outside the UN headquarters in Caracas (AP)

An officer has been killed and another injured as young people clashed with police on the streets of Venezuelan capital Caracas, officials said.

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The clashes came in an angry response to secu rity forces dismantling four tent cities maintained by anti-government demonstrators.

Hundreds of police and troops arrested 243 student protesters during pre-dawn raids on camps in front of the offices of the United Nations and in better-off neighbourhoods in the capital largely opposed to President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government.

Interior minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres presented home-made mortars, guns and Molotov cocktails that he said were seized at the camps and used to carry out "terrorist" acts against security forces.

"This shows there was an entire logistical apparatus in place," Mr Rodriguez Torres said, seeking to counter claims that the anti-government movement has been peaceful and spontaneous.

Dozens of anti-government activists erected barricades throughout the day to express solidarity for the jailed students, setting off clashes with police. One officer was killed and another wounded by gunfire.

Mr Maduro said the officer was killed by a sniper while police cleared the streets of debris in the leafy Chacao district where the UN office is.

"He was protecting the community of Chacao and was killed vilely by these right-wing assassins," the president said at an event in Caracas to deliver homes to low-income families.

The death brought to 42 the number of people on all sides who have been killed since anti-government protests began to roil the South American nation in February.

The dismantling of the camps was announced just hours before a top opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, was scheduled to appear in court after being in custody since February. The hearing on whether he should begin trial on charges of inciting violence at anti-government protests was suspended and he was taken back to a military prison almost as soon as he arrived at the courthouse downtown.

Witnesses near the UN office said hundreds of National Guardsmen began arriving after 3 am local time, and were greeted angrily by neighbours who launched objects and insults from nearby balconies.

Mr Rodriguez Torres said the operation was carried out cleanly, with security forces relying on the element of surprise rather than aggressive force to round up the protesters.

He said the detainees would be charged, but did not say when that would happen. Under Venezuelan law, prosecutors have 48 hours to bring detainees before a judge and either charge or release them, but in recent months officials have often ignored the rules and held protesters incommunicado for longer periods.

Press Association

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