Student leader killed in west Venezuela crackdown
By Jorge Rueda and Frank Bajak, AP
March 12, 2014, 12:06 am TWN
CARACAS, Venezuela -- A student leader was fatally shot Monday night in the western university city of San Cristobal after a long day of street clashes in which Venezuelan security forces attacked and dismantled barricades at key intersections, the mayor said.
Local TV reporter Beatriz Font said there were unconfirmed reports of at least two others wounded by gunfire after dark in the city of 600,000 people where student-led protests erupted last month and where anti-government unrest has been fiercest. The human rights group PROVEA tweeted that one student was seriously wounded by a bullet.
National Guardsmen firing tear gas and plastic shotgun pellets had battled protesters all day in residential neighborhoods, Font said by phone.
The slain student leader, Daniel Tinoco, was shot in the chest after dark, San Cristobal Mayor Daniel Ceballos said via Twitter. The opposition politician did not say who might have killed Tinoco but tweeted that armed paramilitaries allied with the government known as “colectivos” had battled protesters along with the National Guard.
Font said Tinoco was “one of the students who was always out on Carabobo Avenue (manning barricades) giving interviews. He was really enthusiastic.”
Earlier in the day, the mayor had said the clashes were disrupting life in San Cristobal. “Here the city is pretty well paralyzed,” Ceballos told The Associated Press.
President Nicolas Maduro last week launched a “peace conference” at the state level in San Cristobal but the opposition has refused to participate until Maduro releases jailed protesters and takes other steps.
The weeks of protests that have roiled Venezuela began in San Cristobal when students angry about the attempted sexual assault of a classmate began taking to the streets.
The protests soon spread to other cities and attracted mostly members of the middle class fed up with soaring inflation, shortages of basic goods and one of the world's highest murder rates.
In San Cristobal, Caracas and other cities, opposition demonstrators have erected barricades of debris and garbage to block streets and snarl traffic. In some cases, demonstrators say they are trying to protect themselves from government-supporting thugs in “colectivos.”
Maduro has said the protests are meant to destabilize and overthrow his government. Both pro- and anti-government physicians marched in Caracas on Monday, which was National Doctors Day in Venezuela.
While government doctors marched unimpeded to the presidential palace, physicians allied with the opposition were blocked by national police.
In San Cristobal, Font and other witnesses said guardsmen fired tear gas, sometimes at nearby residential buildings.
Ceballos also said the city had seen an upswing in vandalism by pro-government groups.
“Where the government sees a barricade, where it sees paramilitaries, in truth there are just citizens — women, men, families — who are defending themselves from armed groups that come out at dawn to beat the communities, to shoot, to burn vehicles, to generate acts of vandalism,” Ceballos said.