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.
Confederate battle flag banned — Marine Corps declares it a ‘threat to our core values’
The United States Marine Corps banned the public display of the Confederate battle flag on Friday.
"Depictions of the Confederate battle flag are unauthorized in public and work spaces aboard an installation," the Marine Corps wrote in guidance to the troops.
The ban applies to bumper stickers, clothing and flags among other items.
"The Confederate battle flag has all too often been co-opted by violent extremist and racist groups whose divisive beliefs have no place in our Corps," the Marines explained.
"Our history as a nation, and events like the violence in Charlottesville in 2017, highlight the divisiveness the use of the Confederate battle flag has had on our society," the continued. "The presents a threat to our core values, unit cohesion, security, and good order and discipline."
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Trump is ‘a soulless man with a broken mind’: George Conway calls out his wife’s boss in scathing op-ed
George Conway, the prominent Republican attorney married to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, blasted his wife's boss in a new Washington Post op-ed published online on Friday evening.
"Until three brief months ago, President Trump never faced a serious crisis, at least one not of his own making. But now he has faced two, and is failing two, in short order: the covid-19 pandemic, with its concomitant economic devastation; and now social unrest, and rioting, stemming from the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody," Conway wrote. "Lacking in humanity, Trump has had no idea how to handle either one."