Venezuela police facing murder probe: attorney general

CARACAS (AFP) - Venezuela's attorney general admitted on Sunday that demonstrators have been abused during weeks of protests that have rocked the country and 60 complaints, including murder allegations against police, are being probed.

"Yes, there has been police excess, we are not going to deny that... we are investigating," Luisa Ortega Diaz told local television station Televen.

Among the 60 possible cases "there are three police officers from Chacao who are attributed as having allegedly committed murder," she said.

Ortega added that authorities have detained 15 officials, but stressed that instances of abuse were isolated and were not in response to instruction from above.

Venezuela has been shaken by near daily protests that began on February 4, fueled by public anger over violent crime, inflation, shortages of such basic goods as toilet paper and further stoked by often heavy-handed police tactics.

At least 31 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in the student-led protests that represent the biggest challenge yet to President Nicolas Maduro, the elected socialist heir to late president Hugo Chavez.

The top prosecutor added that of those killed in the violence six were public officials, one of whom one was a public prosecutor."

Several weeks ago, the government reported that five intelligence agents had been detained for their alleged involvement in the death of two protesters after Caracas's first massive demonstration on February 12.

The Foro Penal rights group, meanwhile, has said it has found 59 cases of possible torture by security agents against protesters.

Meanwhile, the National Union of Press Workers on Sunday denounced police aggression at protests during which journalists were detained and equipment was destroyed.

The organisation said that two journalists were detained on Saturday in the Altamira region of Chacao during a police and national guard operation against protesters who attempted to block roads. Only one of the journalists was later released.

Police fired tear gas and made several arrests as 20,000 people marched in Caracas on Saturday.