Venezuela prosecutors to question ex-National Guard chief on human rights

A member of the national guard looks on atop a vehicle during clashes with opposition supporters while rallying against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s state prosecutors’ office said on Thursday that it is calling in the former head of the National Guard for questioning about “serious and systematic” human rights violations during the recent wave of anti-government protests.

For three months, critics of President Nicolas Maduro have taken to the streets almost every day to protest against what they call the creation of a dictatorship. The protests, which have left nearly 80 dead, frequently culminate in violent clashes with security forces.

Maduro says they are an attempt to overthrow him with the support of Washington.

General Antonio Benavides, who was taken off the job last week after troops under his command were filmed firing handguns at protesters, is to appear before prosecutors on July 6.

“There has been evidence of excessive use of force in the repression of demonstrations, the use of unauthorized firearms … cruel treatment and torture of persons apprehended, as well as raids without warrant and damages to property,” the office said in a statement.

The Government of the Capital District, where Benavides now works, did not answer phone calls seeking comment.

Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega, who broke with Maduro this year, has condemned the excessive use of force by the National Guard as well as the increasing use of military tribunals to try those arrested in protests.

Government officials and leaders of the ruling Socialist Party have described her as a “traitor,” and the Supreme Court has received a request to have her removed from her post for “serious offenses.”

(Reporting by Diego Oré; editing by Silene Ramírez and Jonathan Oatis)