White House scolds Venezuela's Maduro

CARACAS, Venezuela, Feb. 25 (UPI) -- The White House decried Venezuela's president for alleging Washington was plotting with anti-regime protesters instead of solving his country's domestic crisis.

"Rather than trying to distract from its own failings by making up false accusations against the United States, which the government there has, the Venezuelan government ought to focus on addressing the legitimate grievances of the Venezuelan people," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters in Washington as Caracas protesters put up barricades and created firewalls of debris to block at least four key thoroughfares.


The death toll in the protests against the government of President Nicolas Maduro rose to 13.

The demonstrators say they're angry about soaring crime, basic goods shortages, rampant corruption and an economy buckling under an accelerating annual inflation rate officially listed as 56 percent, among the highest in the world.

"Another way of putting this," Carney told reporters, "is that when President Maduro calls for a dialogue with the U.S. president and an exchange of ambassadors, he should focus instead on the dialogue with the Venezuelan people because that is what is at issue here. This is not about the United States."


Carney called on Caracas to release detained prisoners and stop a clampdown on the work of independent journalists.

The regime last week imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and says it is holding 45 people for violating the public order since Feb. 12.

The opposition says nearly 250 protesters are being detained.

The student-led demonstrations started Feb. 4 in the western Andean state of Tachira, which borders Colombia, to protest soaring crime. They quickly spread to other cities and added the other issues.

Tachira Gov. Jose Gregorio Vielma Mora, a member of Maduro's ruling United Socialist Party, said in a radio interview the regime committed "serious errors" in responding to the demonstrations.

He called for the release of all opposition prisoners including Leopoldo Lopez, who was detained last week.

"Everyone who is in jail right now, send them home," he told Venezuela's Onda Radio in remarks quoted by the Miami Herald. "That's how we can start peace."

He later backpedaled from his radio remarks, saying on Twitter: "I'm with the revolution. I didn't mean to cause any consternation or damage to the revolution."

Lopez -- who could face 10 years in prison if convicted of arson, conspiracy and other charges stemming from a rally that turned deadly two weeks ago -- urged Venezuelans through Twitter Monday night to stay strong in their protests.


"Do not abandon the streets, protest peacefully and non-violently, it's the people who decide who's the boss!" a message from his verified Twitter account said.

The 42-year-old Harvard-educated former mayor of a leafy Caracas district called on supporters to "come together in this fight against the dictatorship that oppresses the country."

Demonstrators Monday blockaded streets in eastern Caracas while regime supporters on motorcycles gathered outside the presidential Miraflores Palace vowing to keep the opposition from taking power.

Maduro, who calls himself a socialist "for the fatherland," alleges the protesters are "right-wing fascists" plotting a "coup" with U.S. instigation.

Washington flatly denies any link to the unrest, calling Maduro's allegations "baseless and false."

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