Page last updated at 23:36 GMT, Friday, 3 April 2009 00:36 UK

Caracas police jailed over deaths

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (file image)
The men were jailed over violence before a failed coup against Mr Chavez

A court in Venezuela has jailed nine former police officers for their role in the deaths of 19 people during demonstrations in 2002.

The violence took place hours ahead of a failed coup against President Hugo Chavez.

Both supporters and opponents of the left-wing leader were shot dead in the demonstrations in the capital, Caracas.

Among those convicted were three former high-ranking police chiefs for the city.

They were jailed for 30 years each for complicity in the deaths of pro-government demonstrators, a lawyer for the victims said.

Six other defendants received terms of between 17 and 30 years.

Relatives of the police officers said they would appeal, and accused the judge of issuing a politically-motivated verdict.

Sore point

Controversy surrounds the killings, which occurred as an opposition march approached a demonstration by supporters of the president. Each side blames the other for the deaths.

Mr Chavez was then briefly forced from office by military and opposition leaders, but returned to power two days later.

Opponents of Mr Chavez led the Caracas city government and police at the time of the violence.

The events of April 2002 remain a very sore point in Venezuela and Mr Chavez often refers to the attempt on his government in his speeches and newspaper columns, reports the BBC's Will Grant in Caracas.

This latest twist in the story is only likely to deepen that sense of controversy, our correspondent says.

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