CARACAS Feb 17 Venezuela ordered the expulsion
of three U.S. diplomats on Monday on charges of recruiting
university students to lead demonstrations that have left three
dead in the OPEC nation's most serious violence since President
Nicolas Maduro's election in April.
Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said the three consular staff
had used visa visits to universities as cover for promoting
opposition protests by students, adding they had 48 hours to
leave the country.
The demonstrations, which have energized the opposition but
show few signs of ousting President Nicolas Maduro, continued on
Monday with scattered protests in Caracas and various provincial
"They have been visiting universities with the pretext of
granting visas," said Jaua, who often faced off against police
during his own days as a student demonstrator.
"But that is a cover for making contacts with (student)
leaders to offer them training and financing to create youth
groups that generate violence," he told reporters.
U.S. embassy officials were not immediately available to
Venezuela has routinely expelled U.S. diplomats in recent
years as the relationship between the two countries frayed
during the 14-year rule of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.
Maduro ousted three diplomats in October on charges of
stirring up labor protests, and also expelled two others in 2013
on the day Chavez died of cancer.
Critics pass off such moves as theatrics used in times of
national commotion to distract from more serious issues.
PROTESTS RUMBLE ON
Student demonstrators have promised to stay in the street
until Maduro resigns, though the 51-year-old former bus driver
has vowed not to cede even a "millimeter" of power.
He has urged his own supporters to drown out the protests
with dance and song in the streets.
The Caracas protests have been limited to mostly upscale
areas, and there has been no evidence that Venezuelans could
join them en masse or that Maduro could be forced from power.
Small demonstrations early on Monday blocked the main
avenues of several upscale neighborhoods of Caracas.
A group of students in Caracas were marching toward the
headquarters of the state telecommunications agency, which has
come under fire since the government's decision last week to
remove a Colombian station from cable television.
Demonstrators in the Andean city of San Cristobal set up
protests burning tires and trash in the morning.
Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, wanted on charges
including terrorism in relation to the recent violence, called
for students to march with him to the center of Caracas on
Tuesday. He said he would then hand himself in.
Citing security problems, the Andean Development Corporation
suspended its annual marathon scheduled for this weekend in
Venezuela's highly traded global bonds, which fluctuate
sharply on civil unrest or political tension, remained near
18-month lows, though trading in U.S. markets was generally
light due to the Presidents Day holiday.
Bank of America said in a research note on Monday that the
protests were unlikely to result in a change of government,
recommending that investors take advantage of attractive yields
on bonds that mature in the coming years.
VIOLENCE ON BOTH SIDES
Only 13 students are still detained after nearly 100 arrests
in the past week. Complaints about violent acts by both sides
have piled up after five consecutive days of confrontations
between police and demonstrators.
Opposition activists say some detained student demonstrators
have been tortured, while videos and photos circulating online
show uniformed men firing on protesters. Maduro insists police
have been restrained in the face of provocation and attacks.
The reporters' trade union said 11 journalists have been
arrested, some of whom were beaten and had their equipment
stolen while covering the unrest.
Venezuelan photographer Gabriel Osorio said that on
Saturday, troops hit him in the head with a pistol, shot him
with rubber bullets and broke one of his ribs as he was covering
"I was working, I wasn't throwing rocks," Osorio told a
local newspaper. "I yelled 'I'm with the press,' but that
actually seemed to be what triggered their attack."
Government leaders have similarly denounced violence by
demonstrators linked to opposition marches, including vandalism
of buildings and burning of trash along city avenues.
Hooded protesters have gathered outside the headquarters of
state TV channel VTV for the past few nights, lighting fires in
the streets and hurling stones and Molotov cocktails.
"If anyone thinks they're going to halt the activities of
(state TV), they're sorely mistaken," said the channel's
president, Yuri Pimentel.