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Venezuela prosecutor says police killed student

May 25, 2017

In a public break with the Maduro regime, Venezuela's top prosecutor has accused the National Guard of killing a protester with a tear gas canister. Prosecutor Luisa Ortega also slammed the use of military tribunals.

Venezuela Luisa Ortega Diaz in Caracas
Image: Reuters/M. Bello

Ortega demanded access to hundreds of people detained by military tribunals on Wednesday, as violent and occasionally deadly protests against the administration of Nicolas Maduro continued across Venezuela.

The chief prosecutor said she was "worried" about the civilians tried in the pro-regime military courts, adding that such trials were against Venezuela's constitution.

Venezuela | Proteste gegen Präsident Maduro halten an
Tear gas has been used against demonstrators during anti-government protestsImage: picture-alliance/CITYPRESS 24/F. Bruzco

Ortega also disputed the official account on the death of 20-year-old student Juan Pernalete. The youth was killed during an anti-government demonstration last month, and government critics blamed security forces for his death. The officials, however, said Pernalete was shot by other demonstrators or provocateurs trying to put the blame on the government.

On Wednesday, Ortega said Pernalete was killed when members of Venezuelan National Guard fired a tear gas canister at him at close range. The container reportedly hit the youth in the chest, causing deadly trauma.

"Firing tear gas directly on people is banned," Ortega said, holding up a canister at a Caracas press conference.

'Fascist coup' or popular revolt

Venezuela Luisa Ortega
Ortega displayed the canister similar to the one allegedly used to kill PernaleteImage: picture alliance/AP Images/F. Liano

At least 57 people have been killed in the wave of anti-government protests that started less than two months ago. Over 1,000 people have been injured.

Security forces caused over half of the injuries, said Ortega, condemning violence on both sides.

Her remarks signaled a growing rift between the prosecutors and the Maduro regime. The socialist government is struggling to contain protesters and the opposition-controlled National Assembly, who are demanding early presidential elections in the country exhausted by a deep economic crisis. Earlier this week, President Maduro pushed ahead with his plan to rewrite the Constitution and defeat the "fascist coup" against him.

Ortega gave her Wednesday conference in an alternative venue after a power outage in her office. State run television, which normally carries the speeches of government officials, did not broadcast her address.

Over 2,700 people have been arrested since the riots started, with 1,100 people still behind bars after going through civilian courts. Another 338 people faced military tribunals in recent days and 175 remain detained, according to watchdog Penal Forum.

The Green Cross of Venezuela

dj/jm (Reuters, AP)