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Cable over road kills biker in new Venezuela unrest death

Source: Reuters - Sat, 22 Feb 2014 17:33 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Daniel Wallis and Tomas Sarmiento

CARACAS, Feb 22 (Reuters) - A young supermarket worker was killed in Venezuela when he rode his motorcycle into a cable stretched across a road in at least the seventh death in 10 days of political unrest.

Both sides are mourning supporters killed in the worst turmoil since President Nicolas Maduro narrowly won an election in April 2013 to replace the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.

The government blames "fascist groups" seeking a coup like the one that briefly ousted Chavez in 12 years ago, while the opposition is accusing troops and pro-Maduro militants of attacking peaceful demonstrators.

Anti-government protesters have repeatedly blocked streets in the area with trash, which they sometimes set on fire. Police and National Guard troops have often used teargas to scatter demonstrators before clearing away the obstacles.

In the latest death, officials said a 29-year-old man was killed late on Friday when he rode his motorcycle into a cable strung across a main road in the middle-class eastern Caracas neighborhood of Horizonte.

"He was on his way home, he couldn't see the cable because of the darkness, and it slit his throat," Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres told state television.

"This was a young, hard-working man who had nothing to do with the insanity unleashed by these fascist right-wing murderers," Torres said.

Five people have died from gunshot wounds, beginning on Feb. 12 when three marchers were shot after a peaceful opposition protest in central Caracas that degenerated into running battles between riot police and hooded demonstrators.

Two other people were shot dead at protests around the country in the following days, and a sixth was run over by a car during a melee.

The focus for the most serious trouble has been in the western states of Tachira and Merida, where the government has vowed to take "special measures" to restore order.

Both sides planned marches in the two states on Saturday, but residents said the situation appeared calmer, with no new reports of clashes, injuries or arrests.

PEACEFUL RALLIES

In the center of the capital and in the provincial cities of Lara, Aragua and Trujillo, thousands of government supporters decked out in mostly Socialist red marched on Saturday at festive rallies dubbed "Women for Peace."

Meanwhile, in Caracas just a few blocks from where the motorcyclist died overnight, thousands of opposition supporters gathered in the El Marques neighborhood to hear speeches and chant slogans.

"We're against violence. This a peaceful march, 100 percent," said Juan Perez, a 25-year-old student, as he purchased a yellow, blue and red hat - the colors of the Venezuelan flag.

Nearby, some opposition protesters waved large photographs of suspected state security agents captured on video appearing to fire pistols at demonstrators who were hurling stones at police after the Feb. 12 march.

Speaking at a news conference late on Friday, Maduro said he would not defend anyone shooting at protesters.

"After I saw the photos I had them detained," he said, referring to the agents, widely believed to be members of the national intelligence service, Sebin.

"If any of them was involved in someone being wounded by a bullet, or in one of the deaths, they will pay with prison. I won't protect anyone who shoots anyone else at a demonstration," he said.

Maduro has publicly criticized Sebin for having agents on the streets, and on Feb. 18 he replaced its director.

The opposition are demanding that the president resign over rampant crime, high inflation, shortages of basic products, and what they see as repression of political opponents.

Maduro says the protests are a pretext for a planned coup, similar to the short-lived one in 2002. However, there have been no indications that the military, which was the decisive factor 12 years ago, would turn on him now.

On Friday, Maduro urged U.S. President Barack Obama to hold talks with his government and suggested the two nations restore ambassadors, just a day after his government slammed the U.S. leader's comments on Venezuela as a "new, gross interference." (Additional reporting by Girish Gupta and Brian Ellsworth in Caracas, and Javier Farias in San Cristobal; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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