Venezuela opposition condemns "excessive use of force" during raid

At least 23 people have been detained in a clash between the opposition and the security forces in a Los Verdes apartment complex on Wednesday in Venezuela. The raid to capture protesters was carried out after security forces came under fire.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Protesters are seen next to a burning car during a rally against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela June 14, 2017

Venezuelan opposition lawmakers on Wednesday accused security forces of using excessive force during a raid to capture protesters in a middle-class apartment complex. The raid was carried out after security forces came under fire.

Videos of the raid show an armoured truck breaking through the gates of the Los Verdes complex during an operation that Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said resulted in the capture of 23 people who had been involved in attacks on security forces.

"These subjects were involved in violent acts in which several officials were injured by gunfire," Reverol said, describing clashes at a barricade close to the apartments as the trigger for the raid.

Los Verdes is located in a Caracas neighbourhood, where almost nightly clashes between the protesters and the government forces have been going on over the past two months.

The protests broke out in April, against government restrictions on the opposition and continuous shortages of basic consumer goods. With at least 68 dead since the beginning of the protests and the intensity of protests and government response increasing, Venezuela is warned against descending into even deeper political violence.

The government calls violent protesters “terrorists” who aim to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro, and says their attacks on police, the burning of vehicles, and the looting and arson attack on a court building this week delegitimise their cause.

Dozens of car windows were broken and at least 12 elevators were damaged during the operation on Los Verdes, a witness there said. One resident said an agent shot her dog in the eye.

"They are mafia criminals armed by the government," said opposition lawmaker Tomas Guanipa, describing as "vandalism" the government action at the complex, which houses some 4,500 people.

Small protests and clashes continued in several parts of Caracas and other cities on Wednesday, with security forces firing tear gas to clear a roadblock in a wealthy part of the capital and protesters burning a car.

The opposition street movements have been heated by Maduro’s plan for an election on July 30 for a special assembly to rewrite the constitution. Critics say the assembly will act in the government's favour and the constitution will dissolve the opposition-controlled congress.

The opposition has decided to stop the vote and call instead for a presidential election. Opposition lawmakers warn that the situation could turn into an armed conflict if the protesters are continually neglected.

"If this government insists on going ahead, the world needs to know, sadly, what is coming here is a major war for the Venezuelans," said lawmaker Juan Requesens, at a sit-in protest blocking a Caracas highway on Wednesday.