Venezuelan Attorney General Opens Probes Into Excessive Violence

Venezuela's top state prosecutor has accused security forces of excess in their response to protests. As John Otis reports, the prosecutor announced investigations into alleged human rights abuses.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now to Venezuela, where economic woes have given way to violence in the streets. At least 34 people have now been killed and 400 injured in several weeks of demonstrations against the government. The country's attorney general now acknowledges that state security forces committed excesses in breaking up the protests. John Otis reports.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: In an interview on Venezuelan TV Sunday, Attorney General Luisa Ortega said her office had opened 60 investigations into alleged human rights violations and had detained 15 government officials.

LUISA ORTEGA: (Foreign language spoken)

OTIS: Still, Ortega praised the security forces and said any violations were the work of rogue officers.

The demonstrations were sparked last month by university students angry over food shortages, high crime, and inflation. President Nicolas Maduro accuses them of trying to overthrow his socialist government and has dispatched police and National Guard troops. Opposition leaders say these troops have beaten up protesters, fired live ammunition, and are responsible for nearly all of the deaths.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch, agrees. He says the Maduro government has used excessive and unlawful force. He compares this violent response to far more restrained reactions to protests elsewhere in South America.

JOSE MIGUEL VIVANCO: (Foreign language spoken)

OTIS: Last year, there were big protests in Brazil and Chile, Vivanco said. But no other democratic leader in South America reacted with the authoritarian practices of the Maduro government.

For NPR News, I'm John Otis.

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