Eight electrocuted in Caracas looting amid Venezuela protests - firefighter video

ITN

Three people have been killed after thousands of people faced off against police in an anti-government protest in Venezuela. .

Eight people were electrocuted during a looting incident in Caracas, a firefighter said, amid violent protests against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro by opponents accusing him of seeking to create a dictatorship.

The accident occurred when a group of looters broke into a bakery in the working class neighbourhood of El Valle, according the firefighter, who asked not be identified. It was not immediately possible to confirm details of the incident with hospital or other officials.

The public prosecutor's office said later on Friday (Saturday NZ Time) it was investigating 11 deaths in El Valle, adding that "some" victims had died from being electrocuted.

Residents talk next to the broken fences of a stall after it was looted in Caracas, Venezuela.
CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

Residents talk next to the broken fences of a stall after it was looted in Caracas, Venezuela.

Nine other people have been killed in violence associated with a wave of anti-government demonstrations in the past three weeks in which protesters have clashed with security forces in melees lasting well into the night.

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Police officers and criminal investigators stand in front of a bakery, after it was looted in Caracas, Venezuela.
CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

Police officers and criminal investigators stand in front of a bakery, after it was looted in Caracas, Venezuela.

"Yesterday around 9 or 10 (pm) things got pretty scary, a group of people carrying weapons came down ... and started looting," said Hane Mustafa, owner of a small supermarket in El Valle, where broken bottles of soy sauce and ketchup littered the floor between bare shelves.

"The security situation is not in the hands of the government. We lost everything here," said Mustafa, who said he could hear the looting from his home, which is adjacent to the store.

Dozens of businesses in the area showed signs of looting, ranging from empty shelves to broken windows and twisted metal entrance gates.

A worker looks for valuables among the damaged goods in a supermarket, after it was looted in Caracas, Venezuela.
CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

A worker looks for valuables among the damaged goods in a supermarket, after it was looted in Caracas, Venezuela.

The Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for details.

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Security forces patrolled much of Caracas on Friday (Saturday NZT), including El Valle.

Maduro's government is so far resisting the pressure of the most serious protests in three years as opposition leaders push a series of political demands, drawing support from a public angered by the country's collapsing economy.

Ruling Socialist Party leaders describe the protesters as hoodlums who are damaging public property and disrupting public order to overthrow the government with the support of ideological adversaries in Washington.

"This wounded and failed opposition is trying to generate chaos in key areas of the city and convince the world that we're in some sort of civil war, the same playbook used for Syria, for Libya and for Iraq," said Socialist Party official Freddy Bernal in an internet broadcast at 1am.

'WE'RE HUNGRY'

Opposition leaders have promised to keep up their protests, demanding that Maduro's government call general elections, free almost 100 jailed opposition activists and respect the autonomy of the opposition-led Congress.

They are calling for community-level protests across the country on Friday (Saturday NZT), a white-clad "silent" march in Caracas on Saturday (Sunday NZT) to commemorate those killed in the unrest, and a nationwide "sit-in" blocking Venezuela's main roads on Monday (Tuesday NZT).

Daniela Alvarado, 25, who sells vegetables in the El Valle area, said the looting on Thursday night (Friday NZT) began after police officers fired tear gas and buckshot at demonstrators blocking a street with burning tires.

"People starting looting the businesses and yelling that they were hungry and that they want the government out," said Alvarado. "We're afraid (the stores) are going to run out of everything, that tomorrow there won't be any food."

Separately, a man was killed by a gunshot in the Caracas slum of Petare on Thursday night (Friday NZT), municipal mayor Carlos Ocariz said.

The OPEC nation's economy has been in free-fall since the collapse of oil prices in 2014. The generous oil-financed welfare state created by late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, Maduro's predecessor, has given way to a Soviet-style economy marked by consumer shortages, triple-digit inflation and snaking supermarket lines.

Many Venezuelans say they have to skip meals in order to feed their children.

Public anger at the situation spilled over last month when the Supreme Court, which is seen as close to the government, briefly assumed the powers of the Congress. The protests were further fuelled when the government barred the opposition's best-known leader, two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, from holding public office.

 - Reuters

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