Police killing of 14-year-old at protest shocks Venezuela
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Police killing of 14-year-old at protest shocks Venezuela

The death of a teenage student at the hands of a Venezuelan police officer during a protest in the western state of Táchira has set off a fresh round of criticism of the government of President Nicolás Maduro and state security forces.

Eighth-grade student Kluiverth Roa Núñez was shot on Tuesday by a police officer at an anti-government demonstration in San Cristóbal, the capital of Táchira, on the border with Colombia.

According to several witnesses, the 14-year-old Roa was shot in the head while attempting to help a student demonstrator near the Catholic University of Táchira. A university representative, Daniela Flores, said that Roa was not participating in the demonstration, but rather was fleeing from the officers and attempting to hide in a building with a group of students.

Local sources say Roa was still alive when he was taken from the scene in an ambulance, but presumably died en route to the San Cristóbal Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Ramón Cabeza, Citizen Security Commissioner for the Táchira governor’s office, said a group of hooded demonstrators had been visiting local schools in order to stir up disturbances. He said the group at the Catholic University had burned tires, thrown Molotov cocktails and injured two members of the national police force, known as the PNB, and four local police officers.

The PNB officer accused of Roa’s shooting, 23-year-old Javier Mora Ortíz, has been arrested and charged in the teenager’s killing. Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz announced this morning that the officer was being charged with intentional homicide, among other charges. She called on the country’s police officers to “act moderately, with control” and “avoid acts of violence against people.”

The governor of Táchira, José Gregorio Vielma Mora, declared a statewide day of mourning on Wednesday for the young victim.

In his weekly television program, “In Contact with Maduro,” President Maduro condemned Roa’s death, offering his condolences to the student’s parents. He announced that the government intended to open a full investigation into the case and insisted that “armed repression is prohibited in Venezuela.”

The president also called on Venezuelan citizens to protest peacefully, saying there is “no reason for violent protest… people can do what they wish with their ideas but within the bounds of the Constitution.”

Opposition protests in Venezuela have often turned violent of late, especially since a wave of demonstrations swept the country in early 2014. Clashes between protesters and government supporters or security forces last year led to the deaths of participants on both sides of the political spectrum.

Roa’s tragic death comes at a particularly troubled moment for the Venezuelan government, which is facing increased international criticism for what some see as a crackdown on opposition leaders. Opposition politician Leopoldo López has been detained since February 18, 2014, and last week saw the arrest of Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, another outspoken opposition leader who has repeatedly led anti-Chavista demonstrations in the Venezuelan capital and stands accused of participating in a plot to overthrow Maduro.

Regardless of what happens in Ortíz’s eventual trial, Roa’s shocking death is likely to stir up even stronger anti-government sentiment in opposition camps already on the defensive.

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