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Police, Students Fight; Universities Suspend Classes Amid Riots

November 4, 1988

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Police exchanged gunfire with students and the two largest universities suspended classes indefinitely Thursday on the third day of student riots over the killing of 14 fishermen by Venezuelan troops.

Police surrounded Caracas’ Central University and and firing broke out between police and students inside. There were no immediate reports of injuries. Traffic was blocked around the university.

Police spokesmen claimed the students possessed automatic weapons, and witnesses confirmed gunfire was coming from inside the grounds.

Students looted several vehicles, including a candy truck from which they distributed candy among themselves, the witnesses said.

In the first two days of rioting, at least 15 students were wounded at the university, said student spokesman Bernardo Ansidey.

Ansidey said the students planned to continue their protests. He did not say if students were using firearms against police.

Central University, with more than 50,000 students, and the University of the Andes in Merida, 300 miles southwest of Caracas with more than 30,000 students, suspended all activities.

In Merida, the state governor ordered troops on alert and had tanks standing by in case the riots did not die down. Students there inflicted almost $1 million worth of damage by sacking stores in the commercial district, according to Ramon Diaz Suarez, a reporter for Frontera, a Merida newspaper.

Suarez said student-police battles at Merida over the three days had left at least 20 students wounded, bringing the national total to at least 35 students injured. He said at least seven police were injured.

Earlier Thursday, two survivors of the massacre of 14 people by Venezuelan border guards said they still fear for their lives because of what they saw.

An opposition party deputy accompanying the men at a crowded news conference claimed informers told him that not all 14 men died on the spot and some were executed later.

Showing sworn documents which said they were Venezuelan fishermen, Jose Augusto Arias, 35, and Wilmer Gregorio Pinilla, 27, denied any connection with Colombia’s National Liberation Army, the leftist movement to which Venezuelan military authorities suspect the fishermen belong.

″They can kill us so that we don’t say anything. We are afraid they will kill us so we cannot act as witnesses,″ said Pinilla.

They maintained the group was fishing Saturday on the Arauca River near their town of El Amparo, 360 miles southwest of Caracas, when Venezuelan troops suddenly opened fire.

A military commander later said the group carried weapons and leaflets issued by Colombian guerrillas.

But the survivors contend they carried only a fishing net, two knives and a machete. They said the only political propaganda they had was a portrait of Carlos Andres Perez, the Venezuelan government party’s candidate for the Dec. 4 presidential election.

Most fishermen belonged to the government Accion Democratica party, they said.

″We know nothing of guerrillas. We had just turned off the motor of our canoe to get close to the river bank when the shots started. They gave us no warning,″ said Pinilla. He said he and Arias swam to El Amparo.

Socialist deputy Walter Marquez, who accompanied the two men, said he was told that not all of the 14 died in the initial attack.

″They were executed later. There is no other way to explain how the (Venezuelan security police) knew (Pinilla’s and Arias’) names before the survivors appeared,″ Marquez said.

He said the cadavers were stripped of their clothes and dressed with others carrying Colombian army bands to support military authorities’ insistence that the dead men were guerrillas.

Marquez said he would call for Congress to solicit autopsies.

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