Venezuelan authorities demolished four protest camps and detained 243 people early Thursday, striking at the remaining bastions of a months-long and at times deadly anti-government protest movement.
Riot police swept through the camps in surprise raids that began at 3 pm, Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said, claiming the sites occupied by students were “being used by more violent groups to commit terrorist acts.”
He said 243 people were apprehended and would now be questioned to determine whether they should be prosecuted.
Lawyer and human rights activist Elenis Rodriguez said “very few young people were able to escape the onslaught.”
At least 41 people have died and more than 700 have been injured since students and other opponents of the government took to the country’s streets in February to protest rampant crime, runaway inflation and shortages of basic goods.
Over the past month, the protest movement has largely been concentrated in Occupy-style encampments in Caracas, with the main one set up opposite the office of the United Nations Development Program in an upscale part of town.
That site — which consisted of hundreds of tents and blocked three of six lanes of a major thoroughfare — was left in shambles by the raid.
Rodriguez Torres said police seized drugs, weapons, explosives, mortars, grenades and gas canisters during the raids — “everything you would use to confront the security forces on a daily basis.”
Forensic teams have been sent to the sites “to collect all the evidence and present it in court in order to prosecute all those that should be prosecuted,” the minister added.
Student leader Juan Requesens vowed the demonstrations would continue despite the pre-dawn raid and detentions.
“The students will pursue their fight for rights,” he said.
– Key hearing delayed –
The police action came just hours before an announcement that a hearing for jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, set for Thursday, had been postponed.
“The tribunal has deferred the preliminary hearing for Leopoldo Lopez, who has again been transferred to the Ramo Verde military prison,” said a statement from Lopez’s Popular Will party.
The announcement did not specify a new court date.
“What are they afraid of? Of the truth? They know I should be freed,” the party, via Twitter, quoted Lopez as saying.
The Harvard-educated economist has been in custody at a military jail since February 18 for allegedly inciting deadly violence during the anti-government protests. He was arrested in the midst of a massive opposition rally.
The arrests of Lopez and other opposition leaders have stoked the demonstrations, and their release was one of the conditions set by the opposition in talks aimed at ending the crisis.
The talks have suffered stops and starts since they began, with some sessions postponed at the last minute.
In that vein, Vice President Jorge Arreaza indicated late Wednesday that negotiations planned for that day would instead take place “next week.”
Maduro, narrowly elected last year to succeed late longtime leader Hugo Chavez, has described the protests as a coup attempt in this oil-rich OPEC nation, which has seen inflation of near 60 percent amid widespread shortages of basic goods.
Most economic analysts blame the South American country’s problems on a decade of rigid currency and price controls, as well rising debt, dependence on imports and stagnant economic growth.
Trump picks Antonin Scalia’s son to replace disgraced former Labor Secretary: report
On Thursday, NPR reported that President Donald Trump is naming Eugene Scalia, the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to take over as Secretary of Labor.
Scalia, who served on the court from 1986 to his death in 2016, was known as one of the staunchest conservatives on the bench. His seat was deliberately kept vacant by Republicans for over a year to deny President Barack Obama the ability to make an appointment to it.
The Department of Labor was until this month run by former federal prosecutor Alexander Acosta, who resigned in disgrace amid renewed questions about his role in brokering a potentially illegal sweetheart plea agreement with hedge fund manager and accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.
Trump official melts down on MSNBC after refusing to admit Trump lied to America
On Thursday's edition of MSNBC's "The Beat," Ari Melber confronted acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan about President Donald Trump's empty threat of "mass raids" of communities nationwide by immigration officials — and Morgan was not pleased.
"The president said there would be these mass raids. Described as thousands of arrests," said Melber. "Were there mass raids, yes or no?"
"First of all, I don’t actually call this a raid," said Morgan. "I think words matter."
"Words matter, so I’m going to get to your response," said Melber. "Were there mass raids as promised?"
Trump’s ‘aberrant’ Omar excuse is the same ‘two-step’ he did when former Ku Klux Klan Grandwizard endorsed him: CNN contributor
On Thursday's edition of CNN's "The Situation Room," contributor Ron Brownstein reacted with outrage to President Donald Trump's attempts to disown his supporters' racist chants of "Send Her Back!" regarding Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) while at a rally in Greenville, North Carolina.
"Let me read a tweet that generated a lot of reaction, a tweet that you posted," said anchor Wolf Blitzer. "It goes like this. 'If 20 high school students chanted this at a classmate how many would be expelled? If 20 employees yelled this at a colleague how many would be fired? If 20 Army soldiers aimed this at a platoon mate how many would be discharged? How much of US will accept this as a new standard?' You got a lot of reaction from that."