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Venezuelan activists urge more protests

Call for nationwide rallies comes after dozens are arrested in street battles between government forces and protesters.

Last updated: 01 Mar 2014 18:13
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Venezuelan activists have called for nationwide protests after 41 people were arrested in street battles between government forces and protesters.

Leaders of the activist wing of the opposition, legislator Maria Corina Machado and members of the Popular Will party, led by jailed ex-mayor Leopoldo Lopez, called on people to rally on Saturday against what they called "repression, torture and persecution."

This comes as eight foreigners were arrested during a rally in Caracas on charges of "international terrorism," state VTV television said.

Venezuela's barricades are symbol of protest
Popular Will said that an arrest warrant was issued for Carlos Vecchio, the party's national political coordinator, accused of crimes linked to the protests that include arson and criminal damage.

On Friday, hooded protesters set up barricades and responded with a steady barrage of Molotov cocktails against the National Guard, as they were fired on with water and tear gas canisters in an attempt to break up the crowd in Caracas’ wealthy district of Chacao.

Journalists under fire

Venezuela's journalist association SNTP has said that one of the foreigners arrested was US freelance reporter Andrew Rosati, from the Miami Herald.

Rosati was detained for half an hour and released after being "struck in the face and his abdomen" by security forces, the SNTP, said on Twitter.

Also detained and released was a team of journalists from the Associated Press, the SNTP said.

The SNTP also said that Italian photographer Francesca Commissari, who works for the local daily El Nacional, was being held.

In the past week, the Venezuelan government threatened to expel CNN if it did not "rectify" its coverage of the unrest.

Government officials released no details on the arrest of foreigners.

Escalating violence

Angry at the policies of the country's leftist government, three weeks of violent protests against President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government have left 18 dead, with the crisis showing little sign of abating.

Protest organiser Alfredo Romero, president of the Venezuelan Penal Forum, said 33 cases of "cruel and inhuman treatment or torture" have been reported to the public ombudsman.

The Venezuelan government said it was investigating 27 cases of human rights abuses, though it provided no details of possible wrongdoing.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz said that the death toll linked to the protests stood at 18, while of the 1,044 that had been detained, 72 remain behind bars.

Some of the deaths have been attributed to violent clashes with police, but other victims have been shot by unidentified gunmen.

The government has denied all links to such killings.

US urges dialogue

With no sign of a breakthrough, Washington urged Maduro to talk to the protesters. 

"They need to reach out and have a dialogue, and bring people together and resolve their problems," Secretary of State John Kerry said in Washington Friday, urging against "arrests and violence in the streets."

Kerry said the United States was working with Colombia and other countries to bolster mediation efforts.

Maduro has labelled the protests that began on February 4 a Washington-backed attempted "coup."

He claims that radical opposition leaders have joined students angered by high inflation and goods shortage in plotting to topple his nearly year-old government. 

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