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Outrage over Venezuela murders

President Nicolas Maduro hastily gathered Venezuela state governors and mayors to discuss the country's violent crime amid public outrage over the killing of a popular actress.

Former Miss Venezuela Monica Spear, 29, and her ex-husband Thomas Henry Berry, 39, a British citizen, were shot dead on Monday, in an attack that injured their five-year-old daughter.

In a rare conciliatory moment during the meeting yesterday, Mr Maduro reached out and shook hands with the main opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, whom he defeated by a razor-thin margin in the April presidential election.

Mr Capriles claims the election was stolen and the two have frequently exchanged insults. But Mr Capriles said on Tuesday that he was willing to put aside differences and unite against crime.

Hundreds of actors and writers took to the streets of the capital Caracas yesterday to demand the government protect its citizens from the callous killers responsible for giving Venezuela one of the world's highest murder rates.

More than nine in 10 murders go unsolved in the troubled oil-rich nation, according to the independent Venezuelan Violence Observatory.

Robbers killed Ms Spear and Mr Berry around 10.30pm local time on an isolated stretch of highway while the couple was returning to the capital by car with their daughter from a holiday.

The killings followed a pattern of late-night attacks carried out by disabling cars with obstacles placed on the roads.

The director of the Violence Observatory, Roberto Briceno, said the killings "bring into relief a common reality of daily life in Venezuela".

His group counted nearly 45,000 people killed last year - 79 for every 100,000 Venezuelans.

"One need not necessarily be flashing around signs of wealth to be a victim," Mr Briceno said. The dead couple were driving a 2002 Toyota Corolla.

Prosecutors last night announced the arrest of seven suspects, saying that "various belongings of the victims were seized".

They provided few other details aside from naming the suspects except for a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old.

Mr M aduro promised "better co-ordination" in the fight against crime in a speech to the swiftly convened security meeting, which had originally been scheduled for late January.

He called the killing of Ms Spear "a slap in the face" but he did not propose any structural or personnel changes to law enforcement.

Police said Ms Spear and Mr Berry tried to foil the assault by locking themselves inside their car, which had been disabled by tyre punctures. But the attackers fired into the car.

A single bullet that entered through Ms Spear's right rib cage killed her, said Katty Pulido, her manager.

Mr Berry was killed by three bullets to his chest, while their daughter, Maya, was wounded in the right leg by a bullet that did not strike bone, Ms Pulido added.

It was Maya who told police how the criminals killed her parents "out of vengeance," she said.

"This is something that happens a lot in Venezuela," she said of fatal shootings during armed robberies.

"They (the police) cover it up in a lot of cases but they can't when the victims are well-known."

Ms Spear's parents have arrived in Caracas from their home in Orlando, Florida, while Mr Berry's parents had been with Maya at a private clinic in Caracas.

Ms Spear was crowned Miss Venezuela in 2004 and competed in the Miss Universe pageant the following year.

She had acted in numerous soap operas, most recently in Pasion Prohibida for the US-based Telemundo network.



From Belfast Telegraph