Venezuela prosecutor chides government over military tribunals

Venezuela's chief prosecutor on Wednesday accused security officers of excessive force and condemned the use of military tribunals to judge protesters, deepening her split with President Nicolas Maduro's government.     

After nearly two months of massive anti-government rallies demanding early presidential elections, fissures have appeared in the hitherto publicly homogenous socialist administration.     

In a speech on Wednesday, prosecutor Luisa Ortega said 55 people had been killed in unrest, around 1,000 others injured, and 346 properties burned or looted as chaos flares across the oil-rich country that is reeling from an economic crisis.     

In one particularly controversial case, Ortega said investigations showed that 20 year-old student Juan Pernalete was killed by a tear gas canister fired from close range by a National Guard, not by a pistol as Venezuelan officials had affirmed. "Firing tear gas directly on people is banned," she said, holding up a canister at a press conference that she gave at an alternative venue after a power outage in her office. "More than half of the injuries have been caused by security forces," she said.    

Soon after the speech, her office announced two more deaths in the unrest, including a 14-year-old, taking the total to 57.    

Ortega said her office was also investigating seven cases of military courts trying people who should be in civil courts. "We're worried about the situation of those detained in military courts," Ortega said, demanding access to detainees.     

Human rights group Penal Forum has said that 338 people have faced proceedings in military tribunals in recent days, with 175 still detained. It has said that in total, over 2,700 people have been arrested since early April, with more than 1,100 still behind bars.