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Venezuela arrests five police officers for a fatal jail disaster



CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela has arrested five state police officers for their alleged role in a rebellion and fire that killed 68 people in a crowded police station, the state prosecutor said Saturday.

Relatives of Javier Rivas, one of the detainees who died during a riot and fire in the cells of the General Command of the Carabobo Police, react in front of his casket during his funeral in Valencia, Venezuela March 29, 201
8. REUTERS / Carlos Garcia Rawlins [19659003] "The prosecutor's office has issued arrest warrants for five PoliCarabobo officials who were designated as responsible for the tragic incident that led to the deaths of 68 citizens in the cells of the headquarters of the regional police: THEY ARE HIDDEN # Justice," tared prosecutor Tarek Saab. Saab, a former Socialist Party governor near left-wing President Nicolas Maduro, did not reveal any details of the cause of the disaster, the worst impact on Venezuelan's notoriously violent prisons in over two decades.

Relatives of dead inmates and a surviving detainee told Reuters that Wednesday night a police shootout had taken place in the prison in the capital, Carabobos.

An inmate's widow said the officers doused the area with gasoline, fueling a fire through the small cells covered with hammocks and shared with sheets. There was no immediate response from the Carabobo police.

Mourners mourn the casket of Abraham Duran, one of the inmates who died in an uprising and a fire in the cells of the General Command of the Carabobo Police at his funeral in the cemetery in Valencia, Venezuela, on March 30, 2018 REUTERS / Adriana Loureiro

Venezuela's opposition blames the tragedy on Maduro's inability to reform Venezuela's lawless prisons, where inmates poke around with weapons and orchestrate crimes out of cells.

"The situation in detention centers and police prisons in Venezuela is unacceptable!" Said opposition MP Miguel Pizarro.

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Opposition politicians also criticize the government for their long silence over the incident. Maduro's government issued a statement on Friday evening expressing its condolences to his relatives, and the president has not yet spoken publicly about the deaths.

Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader who has become widely unpopular, stands for re-election in May, largely boycotted by the opposition.

Heavy government spending and a compliant electoral council are expected to win a six-year term despite wage-destroying hyperinflation, a fifth year of recession and rampant crime.

State television focused on showing pictures of Venezuelans on the beach during the Easter holidays, while Maduro's ministers were also largely affected by the disaster in Valencia.

But Delcy Rodriguez, the president of the pro-government legislature known as the Constituent Assembly, rejected criticism of the government's handling of the prison.

"We reject the use of Venezuelan pain as a political tool," Rodriguez tweeted.

Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Arrangement by Sandra Maler


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