Venezuela sends troops to violence-hit state

Paratroopers ordered into Tachira, near Colombian border, as anti-government protesters prepare more demonstrations.

Last updated: 22 Feb 2014 05:50
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The Venezuelan government has ordered paratroopers to the state of Tachira, where student-led demonstrations against the president, Nicolas Maduro, have been marred by violence.

"Violence in Tachira is related to mobsters, and bootleggers who are taking advantage of the situation and portraying it as political,” Jesus Salazar, a pro-government sociologist told Al Jazeera. “Kids wearing hoods are smashing property: Is that a peaceful demonstration?"

Protests continue to gather momentum

Sergio Vergara, the vice-mayor of San Cristobal city in Tachira state, who hails from the opposition, disputed those claims. The government caused the troubles by cracking down on what had been peaceful protests, he said, adding that vital services had been cut off in much of the city.

Clashes between armed pro-government collectives on motorbikes and opposition supporters have been reported in the city, which is near the Colombian border.

Henrique Capriles, a leading opposition politician, said the government has been engaged in "brutal repression" and questioned whether Maduro wanted a "civil war".
The current unrest, spurned in part by the arrest of opposition politician Leonardo Lopez, represents the biggest challenge to face Maduro since his election 11-months ago. 

At least eight people, including government and opposition supporters, have died with dozens more injured in protests which began earlier this month and show no signs of relenting.

Media battles

The conflict between Venezuela’s socialist government and market-driven opposition has spilled into the world of media, with the press credentials of four CNN journalists revoked on Friday over coverage of protests.

Maduro had accusing the broadcaster of waging a "propaganda war".

The Colombian TV station NTN24 was taken off the air last week after it broadcast video of a student shot in the head in Caracas.

Zello, a "walkie-talkie" style smart-phone app often used by activists to organise protests, has been blocked, a spokesperson for the US-based firm told Associated Press. Fake photos of alleged brutality have been spreading on digital platforms such as Twitter.

"Our authorities are taking things too seriously in order to legitimise online controls and restrictions," Luis Carlos Diaz, a social media expert, told Al Jazeera. 

The internet has been running slower than usual in much of the country in recent days.

Mark Weisbrot, an analyst from the Centre for Economic Policy Research, told Al Jazeera there was no widespread censorship.

"If you look at the media, the biggest television stations are giving long interviews with the opposition in the past few days. There is no real attempt to censor media."

Weisbrot said that while measures taken against the foreign media could not  be justified, the situation could not be categorised as a crackdown, "where people can't get access to information on what's going on."

More protests

Barack Obama, the US president, has urged the government to address the "legitimate grievances" of protesters; remarks which Maduro said were interference in Venezuela's internal affairs.

Maduro challenged Obama on Friday to hold "high-level dialogue" between their governments and proposed to appoint an ambassador to Washington.

"I call a dialogue with you, President Obama ... between the patriotic and revolutionary Venezuela and the United States and its government.

"Accept the challenge and we will start a high-level dialogue and put the truth on the table," Maduro told foreign reporters.

Electricity has been cut in parts of Valencia, Venezuela’s third largest city, Jesse Chacon, the vice minister for power systems tweeted on Friday. He apologised for the outage he blamed on “damages caused by the actions of fascists yesterday”.

The capitcal, Caracas, was relatively quiet on Thursday. Tense protests are expected in Valencia on Friday where a funeral is scheduled for a local beauty queen who was shot dead this week while participating in a protest.

Rival demonstrations by the government and opposition are planned for Saturday in the capital.


Al Jazeera
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