Venezuela arrests ex-policemen who shamed new force

CARACAS Fri Sep 20, 2013 6:46pm EDT

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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan authorities on Friday arrested six former policemen who appeared in uniform in a homemade video cursing and firing their pistols in the air, embarrassing a new national force set up to improve the police's dire image.

The video, widely watched online, prompted fresh criticism of a government that is already under pressure as it tries to reform a patchwork of ill-paid, sometimes corrupt forces that have struggled to handle shocking violent crime rates.

The six young men were all members of the new "Bolivarian" national police force, named for 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar and set up by late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.

They were arrested on Friday, a statement from the attorney-general's office said, and will be charged with improper use of their service weapons.

They were fired from the police after the video surfaced online (youtu.be/QiqPcg83YcI) this month.

Policing is a hot topic in Venezuela, where murders and armed robberies are common, and more people have been killed in the last five years than in Mexico's drug war. The government has said it believes about a fifth of all crime is committed by members of the security services.

Better equipped and supposedly better trained, including in human rights, the national force was meant to represent a break with disgraced units such as the disbanded Metropolitan Police in Caracas, which had been linked to homicide, kidnapping, extortion and other offenses.

(Refiles to fix video link)

(Reporting by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Brian Ellsworth and Mohammad Zargham)

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