Attacks by pro-government vigilantes continue in Venezuela despite President Nicolas Maduro’s offer to engage in mediated peace talks, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Victor Marquez, president of the faculty association at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas, said men armed with metal pipes and wooden rods attacked about 1,200 students last Thursday. It is the latest in a series of crackdowns:
Marquez said the campus had been invaded by motorcycle-riding vigilantes at least 10 times since student-led protests began sweeping the country in early February. The university, which was founded in 1721, has become a rallying point for students and others to protest Venezuela’s high crime rate, food shortages and struggling economy.
“The problems we are experiencing stem from a government policy of not allowing peaceful public protests,” Marquez said. “We have had several students and professors arrested for exercising their rights.”
On March 14, a group of 16 masked men entered the university’s science building and beat several students, witnesses say, provoking university Rector Cecilia Garcia Arocha to demand that pro-government forces stop “attacks on our university.”
Five days later, vigilantes attacked and robbed 11 students in the architecture building, forcing several to disrobe.
Nearly 40 people have died in the protests against the Venezuelan government.
Maduro called for “dialogue and diplomacy” in a New York Times op-ed last week, an overture that opposition leaders have refused until jailed protesters are released.