Published On: Fri, Jun 30th, 2017

Venezuela’s former National Guard chief charged, street clashes continue

luisaortegaCARACAS - Venezuela’s Attorney General Luisa Ortega on Thursday announced charges against the former head of the national guard, accusing him of systematic human rights violations during sometimes deadly anti-government demonstrations.

The announcement came amid fresh clashes between police and protesters on the rain-soaked streets of Caracas. A day earlier, Venezuela’s Supreme Court banned Ortega from leaving the country and ordered her assets frozen, ahead of a hearing scheduled for July 4.

That inquiry, which was requested by an ally of embattled President Nicolas Maduro, will seek to determine if Ortega committed unspecified “grave errors while in her position.”

Ortega, a vocal critic of Maduro’s government, could face a trial.

Ortega’s office, in a statement Thursday, said former National Guard Commander Antonio Benavides Torres has been charged in connection with “serious and systematic human rights violations” during the ongoing demonstrations.

Benavides Torres was sanctioned for human rights abuses by the White House in 2015. This month, Human Rights Watch accused him — along with other high-level officials — of failing to take steps to prevent or punish violations.

Benavides Torres was removed from his National Guard post last week and named head of government of the Capital District.

The attorney general’s statement, referring to alleged abuses by authorities during more than 80 days of demonstrations, said: “In a great number of these incidents, there is evidence of excessive use of force in repressing protests.”

The political turmoil gripping the country took a surreal turn on Wednesday with an audacious attack on the Supreme Court, with grenades and gunfire being launched from a police helicopter.

That helicopter was found Wednesday in a rural part of the country, but the man authorities say piloted the aircraft — Oscar Perez — is still on the run.

Venezuela’s Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz at a news press in Caracas on May 24.

Ortega has recently accused Maduro’s government of committing “state terrorism” by stripping citizens of their right to protest, trying them in military courts and carrying out raids without consulting courts. “We continue to witness the rupture of the constitutional order. The constitution keeps on being violated and the government institutions are being dismantled,” she said.

Pedro Carreño, the lawmaker who requested the pre-trial hearing, has told reporters that he believe Ortega is not in her right mind and will convene a medical board to assess the attorney general’s recent behavior.

“It is evident that this lady is not in her right mind, It is clear that this lady is not normal,” Carreño said.

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