Venezuela police detain 243

2014-05-09 05:30
Supporters of Venezuelan opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles burn a banner of new proclaimed President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas. (Geraldo Caso, AFP)

Supporters of Venezuelan opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles burn a banner of new proclaimed President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas. (Geraldo Caso, AFP)

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Caracas - Venezuelan riot police detained 243 people Thursday as they dismantled four camps in the capital Caracas set up by students to protest the leftist government of President Nicolas Maduro, authorities said.

Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres told reporters the clearing operation began at 03:00, claiming there was evidence the sites were "being used by more violent groups to commit terrorist acts."

Lawyer and human rights activist Elenis Rodriguez said "very few young people were able to escape the onslaught."

At least 41 people have died and more than 700 have been injured since students and other opponents of the 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 has largely been concentrated in Occupy-style encampments in Caracas, with the main one set up opposite the office of the United Nations Development Program.

Rodriguez Torres said police seized drugs, weapons, explosives, mortars, grenades and gas canisters -- "everything you would use to confront the security forces on a daily basis."

The police action came just hours before jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was to appear at a hearing after 70 days detention for allegedly inciting deadly violence during the anti-government protests.

Maduro has described the protests as a coup attempt.

The arrest of Lopez and other opposition leaders have fuelled the ongoing demonstrations, and their release was one of the conditions set by the opposition in talks aimed at ending the crisis.

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