February 24, 2015 / 7:01 PM / in 3 years

Venezuela teen killed during anti-government protest

SAN CRISTOBAL, Venezuela (Reuters) - A teenager was killed during a protest in the western city of San Cristobal on Tuesday, state officials said, as tensions rise in Venezuela amid an economic crisis and a government crackdown on the political opposition.

Kluiver Roa, 14, died in unclear circumstances during violent clashes between around 20 hooded protesters and police near the home of Tachira’s ruling party governor, according to the head of citizen security for the state.

“At one point these hooded protesters intercepted four police officers, snatched their motorbikes and to get rid of the protesters, one of the officials shot at the ground,” Colonel Ramon Cabezas told reporters.

“When the protesters scattered... we saw the students lifting the body of this youngster from beneath a car, we don’t know for now how he got there.”

Police officer Javier Mora, 23, will be charged over the death in coming hours, the state prosecutor said later, although officials said it remained unclear if Roa had died from a gunshot wound.

Roa, whose father is reportedly a member of opposition party Copei, did not have any vital signs by the time he arrived at the hospital.

Other stone-throwing students were injured during the clashes, said Reinaldo Manrique, a student leader.

Isolated clashes continued on Tuesday in San Cristobal, the epicentre of last year’s massive street demonstrations that led to 43 deaths.

Contained protests had kicked off again in recent weeks in the city near the Colombian border, where shortages of basic goods ranging from toilet paper to medicines are particularly acute.

Last week’s arrest of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, a veteran opposition leader, also sparked some protests in the South American country.

Critics say the increasingly unpopular President Nicolas Maduro is seeking to distract supporters and spook opponents ahead of parliamentary elections later this year.

The opposition was incensed by Roa’s death, which it says shows repression of protesters and augurs a broader crackdown.

“There are no words to transmit my pain and indignation,” said hardline opposition leader Maria Corina Machado on Twitter. “They’ve killed a 14 year-old child. A kid who was protesting with his classmates.”

Maduro has countered that the opposition is backed by Washington and is plotting violence against his socialist government.

In an uncharacteristically strong statement, the Venezuelan government’s ombudsman Tarek William Saab condemned the death as a “vile assassination.”

Additional reporting by Alexandra Ulmer, writing by Alexandra Ulmer; editing by G Crosse and David Gregorio

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