Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Venezuela death toll rises to 13 as protests flare, US diplomats expelled, Pope appeals for reconciliation

Anti-government protesters in the Venezuelan capital burn rubbish and put up barricades. Access to the main avenues has been barred and traffic has slowed to a crawl. These blockades are the latest in a series of opposition protests in which 13 people have died. Demonstrators say they'll continue with their protests, until President Nicolas Maduro resigns.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles is also demanding the government release protest leader Leopoldo Lopez and about a dozen student demonstrators, imprisoned on charges of inciting violence. He spurned an invitation to meet the president for talks.
Protesters use a variety of homemade weapons — mortars to lob small, noisy explosives, miniature firebombs, slingshots, clubs and nasty-looking things called Miguelitos made from hoses festooned with nails.
"We're not peaceful here," said Andryth Niño, 19. 
The protests started with students but have spread to other sectors of society. Last weekend, in middle-class neighborhoods around this city, residents threw rocks at National Guard troops whom they saw as invaders and prepared firebombs as they guarded barricades made of heaps of junk, tree limbs and other materials.

The US on Tuesday gave three Venezuelan diplomats 48 hours to leave the country in a tit-for-tat reprisal over a decision by Caracas last week to expel three US diplomats.
Venezuela accused the US of recruiting students to lead protests in Caracas against President Nicolas Maduro. Washington called the accusations "baseless and false".
The State Department said Venezuela's First Secretary Ignacio Luis Cajal Avalos, First Secretary Victor Manuel Pisani Azpurua, and Second Secretary Marcos Jose Garcia Figueredo, had been declared personae non gratae.
"This convention permits the United States to declare any member of a diplomatic mission persona non grata at any time and without the necessity to state a reason," the State Department said citing the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations.

Pope appeals for reconciliation in Venezuela
Pope Francis appealed Wednesday for reconciliation in Venezuela to end three weeks of deadly anti-government protests in the oil-rich but deeply divided country.
"I sincerely hope that violence and hostility will cease as soon as possible, and that the whole Venezuelan people, beginning with political leaders and institutions, will endeavour to promote reconciliation," he said during his weekly audience at the Vatican.
The Argentinian pope called for "mutual forgiveness and a sincere dialogue, respectful of truth and justice" to restore calm to the largely Catholic country.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro sought Wednesday to hold a "peace conference" to end a movement that has left at least 14 dead, but the main opposition leader has refused to attend.
Maduro says the protests are a US-inspired assault on his democratic rule, less than a year since he was elected to succeed the late leftist icon Hugo Chavez, whose policies he has continued.

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