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article imageLooting grips Venezuelan city

By Alexander MARTINEZ (AFP)     Jun 28, 2017 in World

For a bracing look at the grassroots anger that has overtaken oil-rich but food-poor Venezuela over the past three months, consider the bedlam that descended on this city.

On Tuesday, Maracay in the north of the country was a chaotic and violent patch of lawlessness as looters ran wild.

A young man was fatally shot in the cheek by police, witnesses said.

The police had been trying to stop looters targeting stores in a neighborhood called Santa Rita, one of the rougher areas of this industrial city 120 kilometers west of Caracas.

After the shooting, the police left. And the mob -- with men wielding knives -- set on a liquor store, one of some 30 stores looted since Monday night.

While trying to quell overnight violence, a soldier was shot to death, prosecutors said.

While a man named Yofran Nino knelt and cried beside the dead man, people carrying cases of rum and beer walked past them.

"The police killed him!" Nino said.

"We are not armed. We want this crap country to change. We want Maduro to go," Nino, 23, and with his faced wrapped in a T shirt, told AFP.

Then, after placing a sheet over the body of the deceased, Nino jumped into the binge of looting.

Police with submachine guns took the body away minutes later in pickup truck.

- 'Vandalism' -

Amid all this chaos, looters stole a video camera from an AFP team. A photographer was hit in the head as looters tried to take away another device.

The violence erupted after roads were cut off Monday as part of anti-government protests that have claimed 76 lives in nearly three months.

Here in Maracay, supermarkets, bakeries, butcher shops and pharmacies were emptied of their wares.

A building belonging to the state telephone company and the headquarters of pro-government party were set on fire.

Looters rammed a truck into the gate of a warehouse to get inside.

They stole toilet paper, grain, butter, cured meat and soft drinks. They made off with anything they could.

No one paid attention as a man complained that police had set fire to his motorcycle, which was burning in a flaming barricade.

"Is this hunger? It is not. It is vandalism. Now the only bakery we had around here is gone," said Maria Velasquez, a 54 year old homemaker. Like many others she screamed out for the looters to stop.

- 'Dangerous' -

After robbing the liquor store, a crowd set out about stealing from other stores, whose owners had shut down and were waiting on a corner. A man threatened to throw rocks at bikers who rode by with a case of rum.

"We cannot allow ourselves to be scared. That is why Venezuela is the way it is," said Gabriela Rodriguez, 38, the owner of a shop that sells beauty products.

"Don't say anything to them. Those people are dangerous," an older woman said to her while a merchant bragged about scaring off looters by firing a gun into the air Monday night.

With the protection of an armored car, police arrived before the mob and dispersed it with tear gas. The police were applauded by shop owners. The government reported 200 arrests.

Rodriguez said the looting started because so-called "colectivos" -- pro-government groups which the opposition says are armed -- have not received for months the undersized bags of food that the government provides them with.

The owner of a ransacked pharmacy said it is all part of a plan to "sow terror and halt street protests" against Maduro in Caracas and other cities for three months.

"They were in a pickup truck and at each shop they left a group of young men. Here they brought around eight," the pharmacy owner man AFP.

Fear and anarchy reigned in Maracay. A man on a motorcycle stopped to warn a street vendor that the looting would continue.

"He told me to gather up all my things because they would be coming back later," the vendor said.

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