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Gov’t Orders Schools To Reopen, Sporadic Gunfire Reported With AM-Venezuela-Survivors, Bjt

March 5, 1989

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ The government ordered some schools to reopen Monday and declared that Venezuela has ″returned to complete normality″ after the bloodiest riots in decades.

Authorities, however, did not lift a nighttime curfew in the capital or a state of martial law, under which soldiers can search houses without warrants and detain suspects indefinitely without charge.

Isolated gunfire was heard in the capital early Sunday, but there have been no significant disturbances since Friday. The rioting began Feb. 27 and was sparked by increases in bus fares - part of a government austerity plan.

In a nationwide television broadcast Saturday night, an aide to President Carlos Andres Perez revised downward the government’s tally of the number of dead and wounded from the rioting.

Reinaldo Figueredo said 246 people were killed - down from Perez’s estimate of at least 300. Figueredo said 1,800 were injured, compared to earlier reports of at least 2,000.

No explanation was given for the new figures, which were much lower than newspaper reports putting the death toll as high as 600 and the number of wounded at several thousand. Two Caracas hospitals alone reported treating 2,300.

Figueredo said the government was starting to reopen schools because unrest has ″been controlled and the situation ... has returned to complete normality.″

He said classes would resume Monday for kindergarten through sixth grade and begin later in the week for older students.

It was unclear when universities would reopen. Universities have traditionally been centers of protest of government economic policies.

The riots and looting broke out after sharp rises in bus fares, gasoline and other basic consumer goods and services. Perez ordered the increases to meet demands of Western creditors. Venezuela, with a foreign debt of $33 billion, is Latin America’s fourth-largest debtor nation behind Brazil, Mexico and Argentina.

People filed into the Caracas central morgue Sunday trying to find missing relatives.

Azucena Correa, spokeswoman for a newly formed Committee for the Missing, said her group had a list of hundreds of people who could not be located. She said many were assumed to be in military custody, and she accused authorities of holding back information.

″We’ve gone to the interior minister, we’ve gone to the police, but so far nothing,″ she said.

″We even have the names of children, some under the age of 7, who haven’t been seen in their homes since the violence began,″ Ms. Correa added.

Perez, meanwhile, faced growing criticism for his statement Friday that the riots were a struggle ″of the poor against the rich.″

An editorial in the politically independent newspaper El Universal said Perez was trying to deceive Venezuelans, who believe ″the only one to blame is the president himself.″

The newspaper quoted the dean of Caracas Central University of Venezuela, Luis Fuenmayor Toro, as saying: ″It was a struggle of the poor against the poor.″

The auxiliary Roman Catholic bishop of Caracas, Monsignor Jorge Sabino Uroza said Sunday the riots were a product of poverty and frustration, and said powerful business interests and government leaders shared the blame.

Celebrating Mass at Caracas’ Central Cathedral, Uroza said ″there are those that sacked stores, and they should seek pardon; but there are also those, especially economic and political sectors, that have sacked the country for years. They should also seek pardon.″

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