Police Attack Demonstrators at Debt Protest
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Police used guns and swords to break up a demonstration against the signing of Venezuela’s debt refinancing accord, newspapers said Thursday. Five protesters were reported injured and 22 arrested.
About 60 members of the opposition Social Christian party’s youth faction gathered Wednesday near the Finance Ministry where they burned an effigy of President Jaime Lusinchi.
On Thursday, Lusinchi said his government will invoke a ″contingency clause″ to seek new loan terms reflecting the drop in the country’s oil revenues caused by a glut of oil on the world market.
″The loans were made to us because of our petroleum, and we’ll pay them off as a function of our petroleum,″ he said in a nationally televised speech.
The protesters had chanted slogans calling the accord ″an act of high treason″ and said, ″The government has handed over our future to the international creditor banks,″ according to newspaper reports.
The daily newspaper El Nacional said the demonstration was almost over when about 200 members of the Metropolitan Police arrived, surrounded the protesters and began to attack them.
The newspaper said police opened fire with birdshot pellets and beat the demonstrators with clubs and swords.
Five of the youths were brought to the nearby Vargas Hospital for treatment of minor injuries and 22 others were taken to Metropolitan Police jails in the Cotiza section of Caracas.
The youths were protesting Wednesday’s signing by Finance Minister Manuel Azpurua of an agreement with creditor banks for refinancing Venezuela’s $35 billion foreign debt, the developing world’s fourth largest. The accord was signed in New York.
As Wednesday’s scuffle was coming to an end, a helicopter carrying Marcos Pacheco Melgarejo, head of the Metropolitan Police, landed on the plaza outside the Finance Ministry.
″We have to make the concept of authority respected,″ Pacheco told reporters at the scene.
After the police action ended, a group of congressmen from the opposition party went to the Metropolitan Police headquarters to meet with Pacheco and to protest the treatment of the demonstrators.
On Wednesday evening, congress approved a motion for an investigation into the incident.