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Former Venezuela minister charged

By Will Grant
BBC News, Caracas

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Venezuela's former defence minister is facing charges over his alleged role in violent clashes between police and protesters in Caracas in 1989.

Italo del Valle Alliegro is accused of having played a role in ordering the violent repression of the protest.

The protests, sparked by a series of economic restructuring measures which included price rises on fuel and public transport, left hundreds dead.

The retired general denies all the charges against him.

The street riots of February 1989 in the Venezuelan capital are known as the Caracazo.

Government-imposed price rises, particularly on the cost of fuel, provoked several days of looting and clashes with the military which left an official figure of 274 people dead.

Some groups say as many as 3,000 people were killed.

Very few public figures were put on trial over the violence and it has stained Venezuela's reputation ever since.

Since coming to power, Hugo Chavez - who was a lieutenant in the army at the time - has described the event as a massacre by the state, and ordered a tribunal to investigate the Caracazo.

Now, charges have been brought against the then-defence minister, Mr del Valle Alliegro, one of the highest members of the government of former President Carlos Andres Perez to be charged in relation to the violence to date.

The retired general is facing charges of alleged complicity in homicide and breaking international human rights accords. He denies the charges.

Mr Chavez often cites the Caracazo as one of the key events which led him to attempt a coup against Mr Perez a few years later, in a failed effort to remove him from power.



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