CARACAS Venezuelan authorities detained 12 members of an investigative police unit on Saturday suspected in the fatal late-night shooting of a Chilean diplomat's teenage daughter while she was riding in a car with her brother.
Karen Berendique, the 19-year-old daughter of Chilean consul Fernando Berendique, was killed late on Friday when the officers opened fire on the vehicle being driven by her brother in Venezuela's western city of Maracaibo, officials said. She was hit three times.
Venezuela's Interior Ministry, which is responsible for the police, said 12 officials from the CICPC (national investigative police) had been detained and a criminal investigation launched.
"The government ... expresses its condolences and regrets to the Berendique family, and guarantees that those responsible will be punished with absolute firmness and objectivity," the government statement added.
A local newspaper quoted her father as saying the officers opened fire after his son failed to stop at a CICPC checkpoint.
"He got nervous because the armed suspects had not switched on their police lights," Panorama newspaper quoted Berendique as saying. "When he saw his sister was unconscious and wounded, he pulled over ... they told him they fired because he didn't stop."
CICPC chief Jose Ramirez told reporters the officers in Maracaibo had been looking for a gang involved in robberies and car thefts at the time of the incident. He said 12 firearms had been seized to establish who fired the fatal shots.
"We condemn and reject this kind of police malpractice," he said.
Chile's government in a statement condemned "most energetically the death of Karen Berendique at the hands of agents of the CICPC" and called for an explanation as soon as possible. The statement added that Chile had received multiple expressions of concern from senior Venezuelan officials.
Violent crime is a major problem in Venezuela and police have been linked to serious offenses in the past. Public safety will be a big issue in October's election when President Hugo Chavez is seeking a new six-year term in office.
Last November, another Chilean consul was shot and beaten during a two-hour kidnapping in Caracas. In January, the Mexican ambassador and wife were abducted in the capital for several hours.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)