Venezuela government moves to ‘restore order’ amid opposition protests

21st Feb 2014

The Venezuelan government has ordered paratroopers to the border city of San Cristobal, where unrest has been particularly strong. Meanwhile, opposition leaders have condemned the government’s crackdown on protests.

Tensions remained high in Venezuela on Thursday as protesters and security forces faced off in cities across the country, with the government vowing to restore order in the restive western states of Merida and Tachira.

The Interior Ministry has ordered a battalion of paratroopers to the opposition stronghold of San Cristobal, which lies on the border with neighboring Colombia. Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said that unrest in the city was preventing people from going about their daily business.

“It’s not about militarization, it’s simply meant to restore order,” Torres said.

“We are here to work for the great majority of people in Tachira,” he added. “Before we have dialogue, we must have order.”

But San Cristobal Vice Mayor Sergio Vergara, a member of the opposition, described the presence of 3,000 troops in the city of 600,000 as “effectively part of an effort at repression being played out by the government across the country.” Vergara said that part of the city had been without public transport for days and the Internet had been apparently shutdown.

‘Totalitarian system’

Meanwhile, opposition leaders have condemned President Nicolas Maduro’s nationwide crackdown on anti-government protests.

At least six people have died and 100 have been injured in clashes between security forces and protesters. Meanwhile, prominent opposition leaderĀ  Leopoldo Lopez was jailed after he turned himself into police on Tuesday.

“The fascist camp’s leader has already been imprisoned, and I will do the same to all fascists wherever they are,” President Maduro said. “I will not accept a challenge against the Venezuelan people.”

Police, National Guard troops and private militias have conducted nighttime sweeps of the capital Caracas and other cities in recent days, sometimes firing live ammunition.

“What does the government want – a civil war?” opposition politician Henrique Capriles said during a news conference. Capriles unsuccessfully challenged Maduro, Hugo Chavez’s successor, in the April 2013 presidential election.

David Smolansky, an opposition mayor of a district of Caracas, said that Venezuela was experiencing its worst wave of political repression in decades.

“If this isn’t a totalitarian system then I don’t know what can explain what is happening in this country,” Smolansky said.

‘Crude interference’

US President Barack Obama weighed in on Venezuela’s political crisis while attending the North American summit in Mexico on Wednesday.

“We call on the Venezuelan government to release protesters that it’s detained and engage in real dialogue,” Obama said. “And all parties have an obligation to work together to restrain violence and restore calm.”

Maduro’s government said that it “emphatically repudiates” the US president’s statement, calling it “a new and crude interference in the internal affairs of our country.”

The Venezuelan president has accused the protesters of trying to launch a US-backed coup against his government. On Tuesday, CaracasĀ  ordered three US diplomats to leave the country, accusing them of fomenting unrest. The US has denied the charge.

slk/crh (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuter)

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