Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro Calls for Stepped-Up Security

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    AP
    Nicolas Maduro

    Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced Thursday that six people had been arrested after the National Guard searched the central city of Valencia for those responsible for the previous day's violence that left three dead.

    Multiple outbreaks of shooting in Valencia on Wednesday killed a university student, a man painting his house and a National Guard captain.

    "We have proceeded to search the places (in Valencia) where these bandits were hidden and we have six prisoners," Maduro said in a telephone call carried by state television. He did not offer any details about those in custody, but said the searches turned up "weapons, C-4 (plastic explosives), bombs."

    Maduro decided during a meeting with his security Cabinet to step up security operations in areas where violence has erupted, Communications Minister Delcy Rodriguez said in a Twitter message.

    Student-led protests have occurred daily in various cities the past month, joined by large numbers of Venezuelans upset with inflation that reached 56 percent last year, the scarcity of some basic items such as flour and cooking oil, and one of the highest homicide rates in the world.

    The government says the unrest has left at least 25 dead since Feb. 12, while Venezuelan state prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz said Thursday that 28 have died, without revealing the additional cases.

    Maj. Gen. Vladimir Padrino Lopez, chief of the Strategic Operational Command, said on state television that security forces would continue securing areas in Valencia.

    "We're designing new methods to deal with this attack," Padrino Lopez said. "It's already converting into an armed terrorist insurgency."

    He said members of the judicial police were attacked Thursday by people with high-caliber weapons, but he did not mention any casualties.

    Opposition leaders and protesters painted a much different picture.

    Valencia Mayor Miguel Cocchiola, an opposition politician, said there are "videos, proof" that corroborate witness accounts that armed pro-government groups known as "colectivos" were involved in Wednesday's shootings.

    He said he supported any searches that would aid in the investigation.

    University student Jesus Enrique Acosta, 22, and resident Guillermo Sanchez, 42, were shot Wednesday in the working class neighborhood of La Isabelica, which has seen continuing demonstrations against the government. Residents there face rising unemployment following the closure of some businesses unable to continue operations in Venezuela's faltering economy.

    Also killed Wednesday in another part of Valencia was National Guard Capt. Ramzor Ernesto Bracho.

    In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a congressional committee Thursday, "We are trying to find a way to get the Maduro government to engage with their citizens, to treat them respectfully, to end this terror campaign against his own people and to begin to, hopefully, respect human rights in an appropriate way."

    But U.S. Marine Gen. John Kelly, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, offered a dimmer view to a Senate committee.

    "It is a situation that is obviously just coming apart in front us, and unless there is some type of a miracle that either the opposition or the Maduro government pulls out, they are going down catastrophically in terms of economy, in terms of democracy," he said.