Fighting between security forces and armed gangs in Caracas has left 26 people dead, the Venezuelan government said on Saturday.
The official death toll comes after days of heavy gunfire in the capital that forced residents to flee.
What is the latest?
The death toll includes 22 suspected gang members and four officers, Interior Minister Carmen Melendez said on Saturday during a broadcast on state television.
She said 10 officers were injured and that 28 civilians not believed to be gang members were wounded — 18 of whom were bystanders.
Melendez acknowledged that civilians were killed as well, but she did not provide a figure or further details on their deaths.
Human rights activists reported four people were killed by stray bullets in the violence this week.
What happened in the clashes?
The violence began on Wednesday when gangs from the capital’s southwestern Cota 905 neighborhood have attempted to expand their territory.
Officials deployed around 2,500 officers to Cota 905 in a bid to push back against the armed groups.
Melendez said authorities seized three rocket launchers, four submachine guns, 24,000 rounds of ammunition and numerous handguns in the operation.
“We confiscated a military arsenal for war,” the interior minister said.
The Venezuelan government also offered a $500,000 (€420,000) reward for information regarding the location of gang leaders.
The gangs had reportedly acquired drones, grenades and high-power rifles.
Violence in Venezuela
The violence and police operation were heavily criticized by Venezuela’s political opposition, who have accused President Nicolas Maduro’s government of downplaying and covering up civilian deaths in police raids.
“While civilians and police were murdered, western Caracas lived in fear for two days, and Venezuelans are fleeing the conflict, the dictatorship put on a show,” opposition leader Juan Guaido said.
Maduro claimed this week that the gangs were financed from abroad. Vice President Delcy Rodriguez alleged that the gangs were linked to some opposition members, but did not provide evidence.
Similar clashes between gangs and authorities in June left three people dead,
Venezuela has one of the highest rates of homicide in the world. The Venezuelan Violence Observatory logged a violent death rate of 45.6 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2020 — putting it well above the 6.1 global average estimated by the United Nations.