UN says more than 350 protesters detained in Venezuela

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More than 350 people in Venezuela have been arrested this week during demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro’s government, the UN rights chief said Friday, calling for immediate talks to defuse the “increasingly incendiary atmosphere”.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said her office had “reports of large-scale detention of demonstrators -- well over 350 in total (this week), including 320 on 23 January alone”.

Bachelet called for a full investigation into alleged violations by the state, including summary executions.

Civil society groups in Venezuela have put the death toll from days of street protests at 26.

Death of protesters

The rights office, citing “credible local sources,” said it also had indications that at least 20 people “have died after allegedly being shot by security forces or members of pro-government armed groups during demonstrations on Tuesday and Wednesday”.

Bachelet, a former president of Chile who dealt with Maduro in her previous role, called for “immediate talks to defuse the increasingly incendiary atmosphere” in Venezuela.

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“This is, at heart a crisis of governance, and it is the responsibility of the country’s leaders to put an end to this disastrous situation,” Bachelet said.

Venezuela, an oil-rich but economically devastated country, was plunged into uncertainty this week when opposition leader Juan Guaido, the 35-year-old head of the National Assembly, proclaimed himself “acting president.”

He earned swift endorsement from Washington and a dozen regional powers including Brazil, Argentina and Colombia.

Maduro’s reelection last year was disputed by the opposition, and criticized internationally -- but the socialist leader has until now retained the loyalty of the powerful military.