A Chilean woman is the first foreign fatality in the protests in Venezuela


Venezuelan public health personnel scuffle with riot police during a protest in Caracas on March 10, 2014.



A Chilean woman was shot dead while clearing a barricade put up by anti-government protesters, the first foreign fatality during a month of civil unrest in Venezuela, authorities said on Monday.

The death of Gisela Rubilar, 47, who was studying in the western Venezuelan city of Merida, brought to at least 21 the number of fatalities in five weeks of demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro's government.

"She was ambushed by extreme right-wing groups ... She was vilely murdered with a shot in the eye," Alexis Ramirez, the governor of Merida state, told reporters, blaming the killing on unidentified demonstrators in the Andean city.

Students and militant opponents of Maduro have been maintaining street barricades in various cities since last month, demanding the president's resignation and solutions to problems of rampant crime and economic shortages.

The barriers have become frequent flashpoints for violence between protesters, police and government supporters.

People from both sides of the political divide, as well as members of the security forces, have been among the victims of the country's worst unrest in a decade.

Venezuelan authorities said Rubilar was a mother of four and a member of the ruling Socialist Party. A classmate told Reuters she was studying higher education, had lived in Merida for six years and worked as an artisan.

Maduro said on state television that investigations were advancing and that her killers had been identified.

"We're on their trail," he said. "Rest assured, Chile and Latin America, we are going to capture the assassins of this compatriot and they will pay for this horrendous crime."

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said his government had asked Venezuela to provide them with all the information about the circumstances and cause of Rubilar's death.

Chile trip canceled

Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has canceled a trip to Chile to attend Michelle Bachelet's inauguration as head of state Tuesday, diplomatic sources said.

"He's not coming," a source at the Venezuelan embassy told AFP.

The Venezuelan president had planned to make it to Santiago Monday for Bachelet's swearing-in but ultimately decided to put off the trip, the source said.

The crisis in Venezuela was expected to be a major topic of discussion among assembled leaders, including US Vice President Joe Biden.

On Monday, outgoing President Sebastian Pinera asked Venezuela to investigate the shooting death of a Chilean woman during a protest in the western Venezuelan city of Merida.

At least 20 people have been killed during five weeks of anti-government protests, fueled by rising discontent over deteriorating living conditions and police crackdowns in the oil-rich OPEC member.

Venezuela has refused outside mediation but asked for a meeting in Santiago of Unasur, a South American security bloc Caracas helped found, to discuss the situation.

Venezuela will be represented at the inauguration and at the Unsasur meeting by Foreign Minister Elias Jaua.

Biden was to meet separately with the presidents of Mexico, Peru and Colombia while in Chile, and US officials said Venezuela would be at the top of his agenda.