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Hundreds arrested amid looting in western Venezuela

VENEZUELA CRISIS | 14 de marzo de 2019

Caracas, Mar 14 (efe-epa).- About 570 people have been arrested in the western Venezuelan state of Zulia in a wave of looting against at least 350 stores that kicked off on the weekend amid the massive power blackout that affected most of the country.

A government source in the oil-rich region told EFE that the number of people arrested jumped in the last 24 hours from 377 to 570, although so far the authorities have not provided a total for the number of people injured in the violence.

Ricardo Acosta, the spokesman in Zulia for Fedecamaras, the country's main business association, told EFE that looting occurred in at least four cities in the state but was concentrated in Maracaibo, the capital.

Just in that city, he said, more than 300 businesses were targeted by violent groups of desperate people, especially on Monday when the number of people joining the mobs exceeded the deployed security forces.

The looters focused on stealing merchandise and equipment from bakeries, workshops, grocery stores, clothing and shoestores, pharmacies, jewelry stores, furniture outlets, opticians and malls.

"The losses range from merchandise, office materials, work equipment to damage to the companies' buildings," Acosta said.

The first vice president for Fedecamaras said that on Wednesday "a little bit greater police and military presence on the streets than in previous days" began to be seen, a situation coinciding with the announcement by Zulia Gov. Omar Prieto that 200 additional security forces would be deployed statewide.

The president of the Maracaibo Chamber of Commerce, Fergus Walshe, cited the lack of police patrols as one factor that aggravated the looting, emphasizing the "brutality" of the attackers, who also invaded a hotel and stole sinks, toilets and even electric cables.

Local media and union spokespeople said that more than 10 people were injured during the looting.

Maracaibo Mayor Willy Casanova, a supporter of the Nicolas Maduro government, condemned what he called "terrorist" activities and said on Twitter that the authorities "could not act with the necessary forcefulness" to quell the violence except at a few places.

The blackout that began last Thursday was the longest in the history of such events in Venezuela and the Maduro regime has claimed - without providing any proof - that it was due to sabotage by the political opposition and the US government.

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