Venezuela: Beauty queen shot dead in protests

A BEAUTY queen died of gunshot wounds on Wednesday, the fifth fatality from Venezuela’s political unrest, as imprisoned protest leader Leopoldo López urged supporters to keep fighting for the departure of the ­socialist government.

Leopoldo Lopez supporters are hit by a police water cannon in Caracas. Picture: Reuters
Leopoldo Lopez supporters are hit by a police water cannon in Caracas. Picture: Reuters
Leopoldo Lopez supporters are hit by a police water cannon in Caracas. Picture: Reuters

Tensions have risen in Venezuela since Mr López, a 42-year-old Harvard-educated economist, turned himself in to troops on Tuesday after spearheading three weeks of often violent protests against president Nicolás Maduro’s government.

The latest victims of the unrest included college student and model Genesis Carmona, 22, who was shot in the head at a protest on Tuesday in the central city of Valencia. She died later in a clinic.

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“How long are we going to live like this? How long do we have to tolerate this pressure, with them killing us?” a relative, who asked not to be named, said at the scene.

“She only needed one more semester to graduate,” the relative added of Ms Carmona, who had been studying tourism and had won the 2013 Miss Tourism competition in her state.

Three people were shot dead in Caracas after an opposition rally a week ago, and a fourth person died after being run over by a car during a demonstration in the coastal town of Carupano.

Scores of people have been arrested or injured. A state television channel said the mother of one its employees died while being rushed to hospital in ­Caracas.

A spokesman said she suffered a heart attack in an ambulance while it was stuck in gridlock due to opposition supporters blocking roads.

“We cannot underestimate those fascist groups whose boss is behind bars,” Mr Maduro said in a nationally televised speech late on Wednesday. “I’m not playing with democracy. I do not accept that they challenge the Venezuelan people and our constitution.”

US president Barack Obama criticised Mr Maduro’s government for arresting protesters and urged it to focus on the ­“legitimate grievances” of its people.

Instead of “making up false accusations” against three American diplomats expelled this week, he said, Venezuela’s government should release detained protesters and engage in a real dialogue. Mr Obama added: “All parties have an obligation to work together,”

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Mr López has urged his supporters to keep fighting for the departure of Maduro’s socialist administration.

“Today more than ever, our cause has to be the exit of this government,” he said, sitting with his wife in a pre-recorded video that was to be released in the event he was jailed.

“Let’s fight. I will be doing so.”

There were sporadic clashes across Venezuela on Wednesday.

Rival groups scuffled outside the Caracas court where Lopez was due, while student demonstrators also blocked several roads in the capital with burning rubbish.

Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters from a square in the wealthier eastern part of Caracas. Sporadic shots echoed in the surrounding streets, and bands of motorcyclists roamed the area.

The demonstrators are calling for Mr Maduro’s resignation over issues ranging from inflation and violent crime to corruption and shortages of goods.

Mr Maduro, who was narrowly elected last year to replace Hugo Chávez after his death from cancer, says Mr López and others “in league with Washington” are seeking a coup.

Though tens of thousands joined Mr López on the streets when he turned himself in on Tuesday, the protests have been much smaller than demonstrations against Mr Chávez a decade ago.