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Riots in University Kill One, Injure Seven

December 2, 1987

MERIDA, Venezuela (AP) _ Soldiers shot a man to death and seven people were wounded Tuesday in riots involving 2,000 students in this university town. College classes were suspended throughout Venezuela to contain the unrest.

Most of the injuries occurred as students protested the presence of the army around the hospital where casualties were taken. Students and local residents hurled bottles and rocks and engaged in running clashes with soldiers.

The rioting was linked to the death of a student in Merida last Thursday following his arrest.

The government flew 400 soldiers to Merida Tuesday afternoon to reinforce those in the streets and around the hospital. As night fell, soldiers patrolled the city and armored trucks were parked on main streets.

Gerardo Guillen, a 23-year-old carpenter, was killed when a soldier fired a submachine gun at a rooftop where Guillen and a woman were standing, witnesses said.

Three photographers, including one from the newspaper El Vigilante, saw Guillen fall to his knees and then collapse.

″We ran over to him, and we saw that he was dead. He was shot in the chest and his arm was perforated with bullets,″ the El Vigilante photographer told The Associated Press.

He spoke on condition of not being identified, as did other witnesses.

The photographers carried Guillen to nearby University Hospital, where the army was trying to hold back about 2,000 students after another student was taken there with a bullet in the head.

The student, Jose Guaicaran, was in critical condition and underwent surgery, said Dr. Nicolas Faria, chief of surgery. He was shot when students rushed out of the University of the Andes to protest.

Another student was shot in the head, but was not in critical condition, hospital officials said. Four were injured by birdshot and were hospitalized. An 85-year-old man was also admitted to the hospital after being struck in the face by a rock, according to the official news agency Venpres.

Rumors that nine more people had been injured could not be confirmed.

Farias said the hospital asked authorities for ″protection and to keep order among the avalanche of students who have descended here to find out about their injured friend.″ He denied student accounts that soldiers had taken over the hospital.

The vice minister of the interior, Adolfo Ramirez Torres, asked residents of Merida to ″keep calm″ and said that the army ″had been forced to intervene after the looting and destruction of property that occurred.″

″The army is still on alert and will act if the situation becomes uncontrollable,″ he said without elaborating.

Protests began last Thursday in Merida after a law student died following his arrest for creating a disturbance. The government said he died of a drug overdose and called in the army to patrol the streets of this Andean city, 300 miles southwest of Caracas. About 30 students were arrested Thursday.

On Friday, one student was shot to death and another was wounded in the hip in Barquisimeto when students fought police for more than eight hours to protest the death in Merida. Twenty protesters were arrested then.

The army said Monday it would withdraw from Merida if no new riots erupted.

Local radio stations said a Hercules-type transport plane carrying troop reinforcements arrived Tuesday.

In Caracas, Central University, the country’s largest, was reported quiet Tuesday after clashes the day before injured four policemen and several students

Riots broke out last May when a student at the University of the Andes in Merida was shot dead by a lawyer. The army took control of Merida for a week after students rampaged through the streets, setting fire to shops and vehicles.

This year’s riots are the worst in years in Venezuela, considered one of the most stable democracies in South America.

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