Venezuela: Woman shot dead in Caracas after pro-Maduro activists open fire on unarmed voters

Protesters open fire on crowds who turned out for informal referendum led by opposition to end socialist government rule

Jeff Farrell
Wednesday 19 July 2017 15:48
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This is the moment when gunmen in Venezuela shot into a crowd of defenceless voters in an attack that left one woman dead – pushing the South American country closer to all-out civil war.

Xiomara Escot, 61, lost her life and three others were wounded in the capital, Caracas, during an assault blamed on supporters of Venezuela’s socialist government.

Shaky footage shows several men break through scores of anti-riot police officers before opening fire on crowds who had been lining up to have their say in an informal referendum led by the opposition.

Hundreds are seen fleeing for cover in the sanctuary of a church as the shots ring out. Police officers standing nearby failed to react as they battled to hold back angry pro-government protestors.

One of the armed gang, described as paramilitaries, later unfurled a red T-shirt – the party colour of the ruling socialist government – as shots were fired at voters running for their lives.

Some 100 people have been killed since unrest broke out in April in Venezuela amid anger over shortages of food and medicine on the back of a crippling economic crisis blamed on the government.

Voters on Sunday turned out to have their say on President Nicolas Maduro in an informal referendum set up by opposition figures.

Thousands had lined up for hours for the unofficial ballot in the poor neighbourhood of Catia in Caracas before the gang fired shots at crowds in the attack that killed Ms Escot.

Opponents rolled out the unofficial referendum in a bid to undermine under-fire President Maduro, who is accused of trying to tighten his grip on Venezuela as he pushes for more power for his government.

The socialist leader, for his part, has described the informal ballot as illegal and meaningless.

Opposition leader Freddy Guevara spoke out against the horror on Sunday: “The day was stained by the killing of a Venezuelan woman who was protesting and exercising her rights.”

“But violence cannot hide what has happened. The people are not afraid and are clear in their decision.”

President Maduro shrugged off the informal referendum and added: “I urge the opposition: ‘Don’t go crazy, calm down.’ As president of the republic, I make a call for peace.”

Angry Venezuelans last night lashed out at the gun attack, which took place against a backdrop of growing violence in Venezuela often blamed on heavy-handed security forces.

​Morelba Briceno told The Independent: “In recent days we have been able to witness Venezuelans suffering from a brutal repression by national police forces and National Guard.

“These people are civilians and the only thing they carry in their hands is a flag and slogans demanding to the government: 'No more repression'.

“Nevertheless, what has been seen is an excessive use of force on the part of these police bodies, killing innocent people, especially very young students, showing that Venezuela is led by a dictator.”

Others spoke out on social media, including supporters of President Maduro.

One wrote: “Anti-government activists themselves are also behind violence in Venezuela.”

Opposition figures called for the informal referendum on Sunday in a challenge to President Maduro – who has called to install a new congress that would give his government more power.

Nearly 7.2 million Venezuelans turned out to have their say, with the bulk (98%) of voters shooting down Mr Maduro's plans - which allow him to rewrite Venezuelan’s constitution.

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