Caracas: President Nicolas Maduro hastily gathered state governors and mayors to discuss the country`s violent crime amid public outrage over the killing of a popular soap-opera actress and former Miss Venezuela.
In a rare conciliatory moment during the meeting yesterday, Maduro reached out and shook hands with the main opposition leader, Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles, whom he defeated by a razor-thin margin in the April presidential election.
Capriles claims the election was stolen and the two have frequently exchanged insults. But Capriles said Tuesday that he was willing to put aside differences and unite against crime.
Hundreds of actors and writers took to Caracas` streets yesterday to demand the government protect its citizens from the callous killers responsible for giving Venezuela one of the world`s highest murder rates.
More than nine in 10 homicides go unsolved in this troubled oil-rich nation, according to the independent Venezuelan Violence Observatory.
Robbers killed actress Monica Spear, 29, and her former husband, Thomas Henry Berry, 39, around 10:30 p.M. Monday on an isolated stretch of highway while the couple was returning to the capital by car with their 5-year-old daughter from a vacation.
The slaying followed a pattern of late-night attacks carried out by disabling cars with obstacles placed on roadways.
The director of the Violence Observatory, Roberto Briceno, said the killings "bring into relief a common reality of daily life in Venezuela," where his nonprofit group counted nearly 45,000 people slain last year - 79 for every 100,000 Venezuelans.
"One need not necessarily be flashing around signs of wealth to be a victim," Briceno said. The slain couple was driving a 2002 Toyota Corolla.
Prosecutors yesterday evening announced the arrest of seven suspects in the killing, saying in a statement that "various belongings of the victims were seized."
The statement provided few other details aside from giving the names of all the suspects except for a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old that it said were among the arrested.
Maduro promised "better coordination" in the fight against crime in a speech to yesterday`s swiftly convened security meeting, which had originally been scheduled for late January.
He called the killing of Spear "a slap in the face" but he did not propose any structural or personnel changes to law enforcement.