News Column

Nicolas Maduro Blames Opposition for Venezuela Violence

February 14, 2014

Jim Wyss, The Miami Herald

Feb. 14--A day after national protests left at least three dead and more than 60 injured, Venezuela's opposition blamed the government for instigating the violence, and President Nicolas Maduro accused foes of trying to topple his administration.

With scattered protests still simmering around the country, both sides were calling for calm even as the government issued arrest warrants for a handful of opposition figures. There were also suspicions that higher-profile targets might be in the crosshairs.

On Thursday, the Voluntad Popular opposition political party said it had "unofficial" information that its leader, Leopoldo Lopez, was on the government's detention list.

Later in the day, Pedro Carreno, a ruling party National Assembly member, said the attorney general's office was looking for Lopez, whom he called a "cowardly assassin."

"Intelligence has been activated at ports, airports and borders," he wrote on Twitter.

Voluntad Popular spokesman Carlos Vecchio accused the government of going on a witch hunt to silence opposition voices.

On Wednesday, "a country that wants change marched but who wants violence?" he asked. "The government is solely responsible for the violence that happened after the march, because they control the guns, the military and the police -- they control everything."

Two opposition protesters and one government supporter died Wednesday as a national demonstration spearheaded by university students turned deadly. The government said some 66 people were injured.

While social networks showed images of police and government supporters shooting into the crowds, the government said the opposition was to blame for the bloodletting.

Maduro accused a "Nazi fascist" faction within the opposition of inciting violence, which he said was designed to depose his administration. Interior Minster Miguel Rodriguez Torres went further, saying protesters were trying to spark a "civil war."

Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch, called for transparency.

"What Venezuela urgently needs is for these killings to be investigated and the killers brought to justice, no matter their political affiliation," he said. "What Venezuela does not need is authorities scapegoating political opponents or shutting down news outlets whose coverage they don't like."

"If it turns out Lopez has been criminally charged without any serious evidence that he instigated the violence, this would clearly be an abuse of power," he added.

Student protests were exacerbated last week when authorities detained some youth leaders. On Wednesday, tens of thousands of protesters took the streets of several cities, where many are chaffing under 15 years of socialist policies that have reduced income inequality but also saddled the country with the hemisphere's highest inflation and among its highest murder rates.

Maduro seems determined to keep a lid on the protests as his administration is preparing to mark the one-year anniversary on March 5 of the death of President Hugo Chavez.

On Thursday, a coalition of groups accused the government of stifling media coverage of the protests with the threats of reprisals. Colombia-based NTN24 television, which is shown on cable, saw its broadcast cut at the height of the protests. The station said that regulators had taken it off the air. As of Thursday evening it was still broadcasting static.


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Original headline: Opposition fears witch hunt as Venezuelan government vows to crack down on protest leaders

Source: (c)2014 The Miami Herald

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