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Outraged at teens' killing, protesters say Venezuela's Chavez spurring class war
The Associated Press (apwire)     Print Article 
Published 2006-04-07 11:13 (KST)   

CARACAS, Venezuela

Protesters enraged by the killings of three boys in a ransom kidnapping are taking to the streets, accusing President Hugo Chavez of inaction against rampant crime and saying he's fomented class hatred with his tirades against the Venezuelan oligarchy.

The angry anti-crime protests have put the government on the defensive, as officials have pledged sweeping police reforms while accusing opponents of trying to aggravate divisions for political gain.

The second straight day of protests Thursday came as Venezuelans expressed consternation over the shooting death of a Venezuelan journalist andthe arrest of a police official in the killing and abduction of an Italian-born businessman.

''Venezuela is bleeding,'' said Martha Lucia Varon, 50, marching with about 500 people to the Justice Ministry to demand a crackdown on crime.

''Chavez took it upon himself to divide Venezuelans,'' said Varon, a working-class housewife who accused Chavez of aggravating tensions between rich and poor by lashing out at his wealthy opponents.

Many protesters are from middle- and upper-class backgrounds, traditionally the strongest critics of Chavez in Venezuelan society.

They faced off with troops in riot gear, and sang the national anthem.

Some 300 protesters also marched Thursday to demand justice in the slaying of Jorge Aguirre, a photographer for El Mundo newspaper who was shot Wednesday by an unidentified man on a motorcycle while on his way to a protest.

The protests erupted Wednesday after the slayings of the three Faddoul brothers _ John, 17; Kevin, 13; and Jason, 12 _ whosebodies were found more than a month after they were kidnapped at a bogus police checkpoint. Authorities are investigating whether police were involved in the deaths of the dual Canadian-Venezuelan citizens, and suspect it could also be the work of an organized crime network.

Gladys Diab, the boys' mother, had harsh words for Chavez in a phone interview with Venezuelan channel RCTV.

''I want to say to the leader of the republic that by passing over this and failing to give importance to the torture and killing of four people, among them a child with paralysis, I, Gladys Diab, publicly announce: I abhor you,'' she said before a cremation ceremony for her sons.

Diab compared Chavez's administration to that of Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who sentenced Jesus to death.

Chavez condemned all the recent slayings later Thursday, calling them ''abominable'' and telling reporters that he personally telephoned many of the victims' families and loved ones to comfort them.

''For me,these days have been very sad,'' Chavez said. ''When the news came (of the Faddoul killings) it was very sad and very painful for me. Last night, I spoke with Mr. Faddoul ... telling him that we are all with him, his wife, with the family.'' Information Minister Willian Lara, meanwhile, accused Chavez foes of trying to capitalize on the protests and lashed out at opposition-aligned news media for what he called irresponsible reporting of ''half-truths.'' He also said the government is investigating a ''hypothesis'' that the U.S. government might be trying to manipulate the protests to undermine Chavez's government.

He did not give details, but he repeated Chavez's frequent accusation that U.S. President George W. Bush was behind a short-lived 2002 coup _ a claim vehemently denied by Washington.

''We are, as we say here in Venezuela, like flies watching George Bush _ in this case as well.'' He also said authorities had detected meetings between government opponents planning to provoke violence. He did not elaborate.

The Faddoul brothers' slayings came days after businessman Filippo Sindoni, 74, was abducted by men wearing police uniforms and found dead a day later. A police official has been arrested along with four other suspects.

Violent robberies, kidnappings and murders are frequent in Venezuela. There were 9,402 homicides reported in 2005, down slightly from 2004, according to government statistics.

Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez urged lawmakers to accelerate police reform to restore public trust. Justice Minister Jesse Chacon announced a new commission to consider police reforms.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter The Associated Press

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