Spain Stops Sending Riot Gear to Venezuela as Protests Escalate
Spain has stopped exporting riot-control gear to Venezuela's government, after weeks of mounting violence the South American country, with police meeting sustained protests by the political opposition.
The suspension of the equipment was announced a day after more anti-government protests flared in response to new charges filed against opposition leader Leopoldo López, according to several news wire reports.
Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García Margallo explained his country backed away from transferring the riot-control gear because it did not want to "add fuel to the fire when there is a conflict." The decision, he continued, was made by a governmental panel on March 6, but was only confirmed publicly now.
Margallo said Spain has a special interest in Venezuela, home to about 200,000 Spanish nationals.
Since early February, students backed by the Venezuelan opposition have held protests almost every day against leftist President Nicolás Maduro, accused for not solving skyrocketing crime, high inflation and shortages of basic goods.
Elected after the death of Venezuela's iconic socialist leader Hugo Chávez, Maduro has berated demonstrations, accusing them of being part of a United States-backed effort to replace his government, reported CNN.
So far, 39 people have been killed and hundreds have been detained or injured after confrontations with government security forces.
At an April 4 news conference, Venezuela's Attorney General Luis Ortega Díaz told reporters López has been formally charged with inciting violence, arson, damage to property and conspiracy for his support of the protests.
López, a Harvard-trained economist, has been held in a military prison since his arrest during an anti-Maduro opposition rally Feb. 18.
Student-led protests began Feb. 4 in the western city of San Cristóbal and spread to several other major cities, including the capital, Caracas.
The United Nations office in Venezuela expressed deep concern Saturday over the "high human cost" of the anti-government protests, CNN said.
Díaz admitted last month that demonstrators have been abused during the weeks of protests and that 60 complaints, including murder allegations against police, are under investigation.
Asserting people have the right to protest peacefully, the U.N. in a statement renounced "any violent act, destruction of public and private property and obstruction to the free movement of citizens" by either side.
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