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Deadly Clashes Reignite Between Venezuelan Police and Protesters

Tear gas, rubber bullets and blood once again made their appearance on the streets of Caracas on Thursday.
May 10, 2014, 2:30pm
Photo via AP

The deadly clashes between police and protesters that erupted in February were reignited in Venezuela this past week after authorities dismantled four occupation camps and incarcerated hundreds of demonstrators.

Tear gas, rubber bullets and blood once again made their appearance on the streets of Caracas on Thursday as a member of the national guard was shot dead.

The Venezuelan protest’s death toll is now up to 42 since the protests began in February, with more than 800 injuries and according to the Venezuelan Penal Forum — 80 cases of torture, with 2,389 arrests.

For the last few weeks, the tension had appeared to die down, but for a few hotspots in the universities near the capital and throughout the country.

But the incarceration of 243 protesters which included 18 minors and a pregnant woman — reignited the clashes.

The National Bolivarian Police dismantled four student occupation camps located throughout Caracas.

Venezuelan security forces rounded up and arrested hundreds of youth activists in Caracas in pre-dawn raids on May 8, dismantling camps set up by protesters in several locations across the city.

The protesters decided to set up tents a few weeks ago to peacefully protest and pressure the government, and international organizations like the UN to hear their demands regarding the “repressive situation and injustice that takes place in the country,” one of the protesters, Daniel Escalante, told VICE News.

Meet Venezuela's 'roadblock' protesters who are rallying against crime. Read more here.

Three of the camps were located in public plazas, but one of them was set up in the middle of one of the city’s main boulevards, Avenida Francisco de Miranda, to the annoyance of local traffic.

“They weren’t resisting, they didn’t even have time to react, due to the element of surprise,” said Minister of Interior Miguel Rodríguez Torres while speaking about the invasion of the occupation camps.

The arrested protesters are awaiting judicial processing in the next few days.

The minister said that authorities seized drugs, currency — both national and foreign — weaponry and objects used for defense: tear gas canisters, mortars and grenades.

The items were shown on national public television during a press conference this past week.

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Rodríguez Torres also said that there is proof that opposition leader Leopoldo López’s wife, Lilian Tintori, has supported the students logistically.

During the time of the clashes, the preliminary hearing of Leopoldo López which was set to decide whether his case would go to trial or not was suspended.

The leader of Voluntad Popular has been incarcerated since February 18, accused of being responsible for the February 12 disturbances in Caracas.

One Officer Dead, Two Injured

A few hours after learning about the mass arrest of the occupiers, dozens of protesters came out to protest in specific areas of the city and set up roadblocks.

At Plaza Francia in Altamira — the epicenter of a large number of uprisings over the past three months — the disturbances began around noon.

Officials with the National Bolivarian Guard dispersed the protesters by using tear gas and buckshot. The guard were unable to squash the protest, which relocated to another area to the east of the city, Los Palos Grandes.

A few hours into the clash, a member of the national guard died due to a bullet wound to the neck.

Watch all of VICE News' dispatches: Venezuela Rising here.

The Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigation Corps (CICPC) have still been unable to determine where the shot originated.

Regardless, President Nicolás Maduro said via Cadena Nacional — the public broadcast system — that he knew exactly where the shot came from, additionally he indicated that it had allegedly been the work of a sniper. Two other officers were injured during the encounter.

Among the recently apprehended is the director of the NGO Un Mundo Sin Mordanza (A World Without Censorship), Rodrigo Diamanti, who was incarcerated last Wednesday while attempting to leave the country through Simón Bolivár International Airport.

The arrest came after the raid that took place at the camp based at the NGO’s headquarters and according to its members, both actions amount to a “witch hunt” to intimidate the country’s human rights organizations.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday expressed concern over the new wave of disturbances in the Caribbean country and called upon Venezuelan authorities to guarantee its citizens “not be punished for exercising their right to peaceful protest.”

UNHCHR officials reiterated the UN’s condemnation of “all types of violence committed by all parties.”