Venezuelan beauty queen slain in protest mourned as victim of political violence

The Associated Press

Relatives and friends carry the coffin of Genesis Carmona, in Valencia, Venezuela, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. The university student and beauty queen was buried Friday in Valencia where she was slain during a political protest, a victim of what government opponents say is the kind of indiscriminate violence that has been used to stifle dissent across the country by supporters of President Nicolas Maduro. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

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"There's no food, no milk, no baby food ... It is horrible what is happening in this country," Gil said. "That's why she was out at the protest."

Carmona is one of at least eight people who have been killed during political protests roiling this South American country since massive opposition rallies on Feb. 12 ended with three deaths in the capital, including one government supporter. With even Maduro lamenting the tragedy during a speech on national TV, the young woman's death has resonated in part because she was a pageant winner in a country that has long prized its production of more Miss Universe winners than any other nation.

Her death also came amid increasing concern about escalating violence in the country, and has left many on edge as the opposition plans large rallies on Saturday.

The government said Thursday that it would send paratroopers to a border area torn by fierce clashes between police and anti-government protesters even as security forces are being accused of turning many parts of the country into free-fire zones in their bid to silence a rejuvenated movement challenging socialist rule.

The unrest has been particularly high in the western state of Tachira, on Venezuela's border with Colombia, where anti-government protesters have clashed with police and National Guard units, disrupting life in its capital, San Cristobal.

"These units will enable the city to function, so food can get in, so people can go about their normal lives," said Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres. "It's simply meant to restore order."

San Cristobal's mayor said the paratroopers would only exacerbate tensions in the city of 600,000. He accused the government of causing the troubles by cracking down on peaceful protests and cutting off vital services in the city, including public transportation and the Internet.

"Our problems can't be resolved with soldiers," Daniel Ceballos, a member of the opposition, told the AP. "We need gas, flour, medicine and toilet paper."

National Guard troops and members of pro-government militias have swarmed through the streets of Caracas and other cities firing volleys, at times indiscriminately, in repeated spasms of nighttime violence in recent days.

Henrique Capriles, the two-time presidential candidate of an opposition coalition, said the government is engaging in "brutal repression."

"What does the government want, a civil war?" Capriles asked at a news conference Thursday.

While several large demonstrations by thousands of people have been peaceful, smaller groups of protesters have lobbed fire bombs and rocks and blocked streets with flaming barricades of trash. Troops and police have responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and blasts from water cannons — as well as raids by gun-firing men from motorcycles.

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Associated Press writers Joshua Goodman in Caracas and Vivian Sequera in San Cristobal contributed to this report.

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