Caracas party stampede: 17 dead in tear gas panic | News | DW | 16.06.2018
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Caracas party stampede: 17 dead in tear gas panic

Seventeen people have been killed at a crowded nightclub after the detonation of a tear gas canister. Eight of those who died were under the age of 18.

A fight between a group of young people escalated into a brawl during a high school graduation party at the Los Cotorros club early Saturday morning. A tear gas canister was detonated during the disturbance, which according to Venezuela's interior minister, Nestor Reverol, sent more than 500 people rushing for the exits.

At least 17 people suffocated to death during the stampede in the middle-class Caracas neighborhood of El Paraiso. Eight of those who lost their lives were under 18. Another five people were injured, one of whom was in serious condition.

Read more: Venezuela: A country in meltdown

Images posted on Twitter showed shoes scattered outside what appeared to be the club and people embracing one another, some wiping away tears. 

Authorities arrested seven people, Reverol said, including the owner of the club — for permitting weapons into the club that threatened the "integrity" of the establishment — and the person suspected of deploying the gas canister. "The government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, led by President Nicolas Maduro, deplores this unfortunate event. We send our condolences to the families," he said on Venezuelan television. The nightclub was ordered to close and a criminal investigation was underway, said Reverol.

"We haven't received a response from anybody, neither from the police nor the doctors," Nilson Guerra, the father of one victim, said at the hospital. He only knew his 19-year-old son, Luis, had died because he saw him in the morgue. Another son of his had been hospitalized.

Venezuela in meltdown

Venezuela, a country of 30 million people, has been suffering a massive economic downturn since global oil prices fell dramatically three years ago. Thousands of opposition protesters have taken to the streets blaming Maduro for a long recession, triple-digit inflation, and shortages of basic items in the shops.

Crime rates have shot up and many Caracas residents refuse to go out at night due to safety concerns. The Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV) says 28,479 people were killed in 2016, which translates to a soaring homicide rate of 91.8 per 100,000 inhabitants in the whole of the country. This compares with a rate of 90 per 100,000 the year before. In Caracas, the rate is even higher, with the OVV saying there were 140 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2016.

Authorities say nongovernmental groups inflate figures to create paranoia and tarnish Maduro's socialist government. Maduro blames falling oil prices and what he says is an economic war by opponents.

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kw/rc (AFP, Reuters)

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