Venezuela frees most youths arrested in raid

A small group of anti-government protesters block an avenue with a burning barricade after a march in Caracas May 10, 2014. Venezuela has set free most of 200 demonstrators that had been rounded up in last week’s raids. — Reuters pic
A small group of anti-government protesters block an avenue with a burning barricade after a march in Caracas May 10, 2014. Venezuela has set free most of 200 demonstrators that had been rounded up in last week’s raids. — Reuters pic

CARACAS, May 12 — Venezuela has set free most of more than 200 people detained when authorities demolished protest camps last week, officials said yesterday.

The demonstrators had been rounded up in raids on Thursday, holdouts in bastions of a months-long and at times deadly protest movement. Officials initially said 243 people were arrested.

Riot police swept through the four camps in the surprise raids, with Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres saying the sites occupied by students were “being used by more violent groups to commit terrorist acts.”

But authorities began releasing most of those arrested on Saturday, leaving only 11 of them still detained awaiting trial for charges including illegal possession of weapons, property damage and blocking a thoroughfare.

“Fully 156 (people) were issued warning citations,” prosecutors said in a statement.

At least 42 people have died and more than 800 have been injured since students and other opponents of the socialist government took to the country’s streets in February to protest rampant crime, runaway inflation and shortages of basic goods.

Over the past month, the protest movement had largely been concentrated in Occupy-style encampments in Caracas, with the main one set up in a tony neighborhood opposite the office of the United Nations Development Program.

That site — which consisted of hundreds of tents and blocked three of six lanes of a major thoroughfare — was ravaged by the raid.

President Nicolas Maduro, narrowly elected last year to succeed late longtime leader Hugo Chavez, has described the protests as a coup attempt in the oil-rich OPEC nation with inflation near 60 percent.

People often stand in line for hours outside supermarkets and consider themselves lucky if they leave with basics such as sugar, milk or toilet paper.

Most economic experts blame the South American country’s problems on a decade of rigid currency and price controls, as well rising debt, dependence on imports and stagnant economic growth. — AFP