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Gov’t Orders Schools To Reopen, Sporadic Gunfire Reported

March 6, 1989

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ The government declared it has regained control after the country’s bloodiest riots in decades and ordered elementary schools to reopen today. It also gave a new, lower death toll.

A nighttime curfew remained in effect in the capital and the country was still under martial law, which allows soldiers to 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, which began Feb. 27, was sparked by increases in bus fares and other price increases mandated under an austerity plan demanded by foreign creditors.

In a nationwide television broadcast, an aide to President Carlos Andres Perez revised downward the government’s tally of the number of dead and wounded from the rioting, which began Feb. 27.

He said 246 people were killed - down from Perez’s previous estimate of at least 300. Figueredo said 1,800 people 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 during Saturday night’s broadcast that 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 today 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.

With its oil-based economy, Venezuela enjoyed prosperity during the 1970s but saw its fortunes sharply decline with the price of oil in 1981.

The country’s $33 billion foreign debt makes it 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.

The auxiliary Roman Catholic bishop of Caracas, Monsignor Jorge Sabino Uroza said Sunday that 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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