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Students hit with water cannons and tear gas in Venezuela protests

Foreign journalists were among 41 arrested as clashes intensified in the capital Caracas.

AT LEAST 41 people, including foreign reporters, were arrested in Caracas late Friday as security forces battled protesters angry at the policies of Venezuela’s leftist government.

National Guard security forces blasted the student-led demonstrators with high-pressure water and fired tear gas canisters into the crowds in an attempt to break up the protest. Hooded protesters set up barricades and responded by hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails.

The death toll from three-week street battles stood at 18, according to government figures.

image(AP/Press Association Images)

With no sign of a breakthrough in the political crisis gripping the oil-rich country, Washington urged President Nicolas Maduro to talk to the protesters.

“They need to reach out and have a dialogue, and bring people together and resolve their problems,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in Washington, urging against “arrests and violence in the streets.”

Kerry said the United States was working with Colombia and other countries to bolster mediation efforts.

Maduro has labeled the protests that began on February 4 a Washington-backed attempted “coup.”

He claims that radical opposition leaders have joined students angered by high inflation and goods shortage in plotting to topple his nearly year-old government.

Two foreign reporters detained

Eight of those detained were foreigners “and are being held for international terrorism,” state VTV television said in a brief statement.

Venezuela’s journalist association SNTP said that one of the foreigners was US freelance reporter Andrew Rosati, who writes for the Miami Herald.

Rosati was detained for half an hour and released after being “struck in the face and his abdomen” by security forces, the SNTP, said on Twitter.

image(AP Photo/Javier Galeano)

The group also said that Italian photographer Francesca Commissari, who works for the local daily El Nacional, was being held.

Government officials gave no information or details on the arrest of foreigners.

Security forces made the arrests at a protest in the Plaza Altamira, in the city’s wealthy Chacao district.

In a separate incident, Maduro said that National Guard members were “ambushed” and shot at while removing debris from the streets of Valencia, Venezuela’s economic hub. One died from a shot in the eye and another was shot twice in the leg.

“All these things are aimed at triggering a backlash from security forces,” Maduro said from the Miraflores presidential palace, where he spoke with representatives of various political and social sectors.

“Justice must prevail against implacable murderers and those preparing paramilitary groups… to hide behind alleged protests and seek civil war.”

‘Inexcusable’ violence

Protest organiser Alfredo Romero, president of the Venezuelan Penal Forum, said 33 cases of “cruel and inhuman treatment or torture” have been reported to the public ombudsman.

One of the cases involves an alleged rape with a rifle of a young man arrested by the National Guard.

The Venezuelan government said it was investigating 27 cases of human rights abuses, though it provided no details of possible wrongdoing.

Some of the deaths have been attributed to violent clashes with police, but other victims have been shot by unidentified gunmen, whom the protesters have accused of being government agents.

image(AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

The government has denied all links to such killings.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz said that the death toll linked to the protests stood at 18, while of the 1,044 that had been detained, 72 remain behind bars.

The US Congress has condemned “inexcusable” violence against anti-government protesters, calling for a dialogue to end the crisis and urging President Barack Obama to impose sanctions on those responsible for the crackdown.

The resolution came one day after Venezuela reportedly issued an arrest warrant for a second opposition figure accused of crimes linked to the protests, including arson, public incitement and criminal damage.

Leopoldo Lopez, of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party, had turned himself in last week after a warrant went out for his arrest.

The party said Thursday that Maduro’s embattled government was now seeking Carlos Vecchio, the Voluntad Popular party’s national political coordinator.

Court officials have not confirmed the arrest warrant.

- © AFP, 2014

Explainer: What’s going on in Venezuela?

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