Venezuela's defense minister denies detaining troops who refuse to suppress protests. The death toll from the government's response to a month of protests has risen to at least 37.
Venezuela's defense minister denies reports that the government has detained 85 midlevel military officers for refusing to put down protests. Vladimir Padrino said any notion of a military insurrection - or even a possible putsch - was "totally rubbish."
"There is absolutely not that quantity of subversive officers," Padrino, who also leads the army's strategic operational command, told Spanish news agency EFE late Friday.
Earlier on Friday, the opposition leader Henrique Capriles had said officers were "in disagreement with the activities of the national guard and the national police in the savage repression that had occurred" over a month of protests. Capriles said he had received the information about the detained officers through some of their relatives, who indicated that the men wanted their position shared with the public.
Padrino said that the military was investigating three junior officers who sought asylum in neighboring Colombia after deserting. However, he called the other assertions by Capriles "totally false."
Even if the military is in order, Padrino is facing an insurrection within his family. "Cousin, it's enough!" his cousin Ernesto Padrino wrote in an open letter posted on social media Thursday. "Eighty percent of Venezuelans want elections as a way out of our nation's grave economic and political crisis," he wrote. "Sooner or later, the Venezuelan people will make you pay."
Other pleas for the government to stand down have come from famous Venezuelans around the world.
Death toll rises
Mass protests erupted on April 1, when demonstrators demanded elections to remove President Nicolas Maduro. They blame him for shortages of food, medicine and other basic supplies.
Media regularly document the use of tear gas and rubber bullets by the national guard. The death toll from over a month of political unrest has risen to at least 37 after 20-year-old Hecder Lugo Perez died Friday from an injury sustained Thursday, when a projectile struck him in the head in the city of Valencia, municipal and medical officials told news agencies. More than 700 people have suffered injuries, and 152 sit in prison.
Another day of protests was scheduled for Saturday, with Maduro's opponents calling for women to march dressed in white - a traditional show of defiance. "The regime is falling," Lilian Tintori, wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, said outside her husband's prison near Caracas. "It has no strength and is showing its worst side: using weapons because it is does not have right on its side."
mkg/jlw (EFE, Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)