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Venezuela frees protesters as unrest goes on

Government says 25 of 99 anti-Maduro demonstrators have been released pending trial, and that others will be free soon.

Last updated: 15 Feb 2014 08:34
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Venezuelan authorities have freed 25 student protesters pending trial and said 74 others arrested amid this week's deadly political turmoil would swiftly be processed, the Reuters news agency reported.

The announcement on Friday came as police in Caracas used tear gas and water cannons to clear out hundreds of demonstrators, who have spent days protesting against Venezuela's government.

Some protesters lit fires and threw stones at the security forces. They also briefly blocked a major highway in Caracas, prompting a strong reproach from President Nicolas Maduro.

The people have a right to their lives. How can four little crazy guys come along and try to close highways?

Nicolas Maduro, president

"I'm not going to allow it. Enough! We will unblock them legally, and we won't let them block any more," Maduro said at a televised event in the city centre, alongside top officials from the ruling Socialist Party and pro-government sports stars and entertainers.

"The people have a right to their lives. How can four little crazy guys come along and try to close highways?"

Protesters have cited a litany of grievances with the Maduro administration, including the repression of demonstrations since three people were shot dead this week following an opposition-led march.

They blame Maduro for everything from high inflation and shortages of basic products to widespread corruption and one of the worst murder rates in the world.

Calls for resignation

Friday marked the third straight night of anti-government demonstrations in Venezuela.

After police dispersed the crowd blocking the Caracas highway, protesters regrouped to a nearby plaza, where they burned trash and threw stones at police, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Demonstrators who gathered at Altamira Square in Caracas said they would defy the president's ban on protests until he steps down, Reuters reported.

Derrik Redman, whose son died in the earlier clashes with police, told the AP: "As long as the protests continue, I'll still go."

Maduro has accused his foes of seeking a coup against him similar to one that briefly toppled his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, in 2002, but so far there has been no sign that the demonstrations threaten to oust him.

Venezuela's leftist allies around Latin America sent Maduro messages of solidarity over what they termed "coup" plans, while the European Union called for calm and dialogue.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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