San Cristobal: The killing of a 14-year-old boy by a policeman during an anti-government protest is raising already high tensions in Venezuela amid a crackdown on the opposition and crippling economic problems.
Protesters hurling rocks clashed with police backed by armored vehicles late into the night, and the country was braced for further demonstrations yesterday after the student, identified as Kluiverth Roa, was shot in the head and killed during a confrontation in San Cristobal, the capital of a restive western state.
Police officer Javier Mora Ortiz, 23, confessed to firing on the boy with plastic ammunition, officials said.
A photo and video of the student lying in a pool of blood, his backpack hanging over his shoulder, as a man frantically tries to staunch the bleeding and others scream and clutch their heads in horror rocketed around social media. Mourners were gathering in San Cristobal for the funeral, yesterday afternoon.
Ruling party officials, including President Nicolas Maduro, condemned the killing with rare speed and forcefulness.
But as Maduro spoke, many residents of the university town near the Colombian border leaned out their windows to bang pots and pans in a cacophonous protest that lasted two hours. Shops closed their doors and public transportation halted as protesters set up flaming barricades on main thoroughfares.
Buses began running again yesterday morning, but schools remained closed.
In Caracas, small groups gathered yesterday to protest the killings. Teacher Carolina Castro was among dozens of government critics who held signs outside the diplomatic mission of the Vatican beseeching Pope Francis intervene.
"It hurts me that they're killing our students," said Castro, who wore a homemade necklace with a photo of the 14 year-old. "How many more Venezuelans have to be murdered before there is a reaction?"
Maduro said in a nationally televised address that masked protesters used rocks to attack police who sought to quell the demonstration. He called on young people to resist instigating such confrontations, but also condemned the killing.
Venezuelan ombudsman Tarek William Saab, a federal official charged with defending human rights, said on Twitter that he deplored the "vile assassination" of the teen, who he named as Kluiverth Roa, though other officials spelled his first name differently.