Fresh Venezuela protests erupt in Caracas streets after violent clashes


Venezuelans show their support for anti-government protests in Venezuela on March 1, 2014 in Miami, Florida. In Venezuela, protests over the past couple of weeks have resulted in violence as government opponents and supporters have faced off in the streets.


Joe Raedle

Anti-government protesters took to the streets of Venezuela's capital on Saturday, calling for the release of dozens of activists who have been arrested during three weeks of violent demonstrations.

Protesters from a radical opposition group formed a convoy of cars and bikes in eastern Caracas after fresh violence on Friday saw pitched battles between security forces and demonstrators.

Eighteen people have died in the demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro's government, according to official figures.

Protesters on Saturday vowed to boycott Venezuela's annual carnival celebrations as a mark of respect to the dead.

"We honor the dead. No carnival, there is nothing to celebrate," engineering student Argenis Arteaga told AFP at the protest.

Saturday's demonstration came after at least 41 people, including several foreign journalists, were arrested during Friday's clashes.

National Guard security forces used water cannons and tear gas to break up student-led demonstrations in the city's wealthy Chacao district.

Hooded protesters set up barricades and responded with a steady barrage of Molotov cocktails.

Maduro has labeled the protests that began on Feb. 4 as a Washington-backed attempted "coup."

He claims that radical opposition leaders have joined students angered by high inflation and goods shortage in plotting to topple his nearly year-old government.


Friday's arrests included eight foreigners who were being "held for international terrorism," state VTV television said in a brief statement.

Venezuela's journalist association SNTP said one of the foreigners was US freelance reporter Andrew Rosati, who writes for the Miami Herald.

Rosati was detained for half an hour and released after being "struck in the face and his abdomen" by security forces, the SNTP said on Twitter.

Also detained and released was a team of journalists from the Associated Press, it said.

The SNTP also said Italian photographer Francesca Commissari, who works for the local daily El Nacional, was being held.

Protest organizer Alfredo Romero said Saturday he had been in contact with Commissari .

"I spoke personally with Francesca Commissari. She's okay," Romero, president of the Venezuelan Penal Forum, wrote on Twitter.

Government officials released no details on the arrest of foreigners.

Friday's clashes added fuel to protests that had begun to flag after the government decreed several days of holidays to mark the start of Carnival season.

In a separate incident, Maduro said National Guard members were "ambushed" and shot at while removing debris from the streets of Valencia, Venezuela's economic hub. One died from a shot in the eye and another was shot twice in the leg.

"All these things are aimed at triggering a backlash from security forces," Maduro said.

"Justice must prevail against implacable murderers and those preparing paramilitary groups... to hide behind alleged protests and seek civil war."

The Venezuelan Penal Forum, meanwhile, said 33 cases of "cruel and inhuman treatment or torture" have been reported to the public ombudsman.

The government said it was investigating 27 cases of human rights abuses, though it provided no details of possible wrongdoing.

Some of the deaths have been attributed to violent clashes with police, but other victims have been shot by unidentified gunmen, whom the protesters have accused of being government agents.

The government has denied all links to such killings.