Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela's Maduro launches civilian disarmament plan

People lay flowers to demonstrate against violence and the high murder rate in Venezuela on 12 January, 2014. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Venezuelans have demonstrated against the country's high murder rate by laying flowers for the victims

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has announced he is expanding a plan to disarm civilians.

Speaking on the International Day of Peace, Mr Maduro said his government would invest $47m (£29m) and create 60 new disarmament centres.

According to United Nations figures, Venezuela has the second highest peacetime murder rate in the world after Honduras.

Most of the murders in Venezuela are committed using firearms.

"We are building peace from within, and for that, you need disarmament," the president said at an event in the capital, Caracas.

Tougher sentences

UN figures suggest there were 53.7 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012, compared to 90.4 in Honduras.

The figure was up from 47.8 the previous year.

Mr Maduro also approved $39m in funding for a plan under which soldiers have been deployed to patrol the streets of the most dangerous neighbourhoods.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Maduro says youth programmes and housing will cut down crime, but disarmament is key

Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said the money would be used to finance 2,000 new patrols and fund new equipment for the security forces.

In June 2013, President Maduro introduced tough penalties for illegal weapons possession, with sentences of up to 20 years in jail.

But despite these new laws, the perception of insecurity among Venezuelan citizens remains high.

Earlier this year, many took part in a series of mass anti-government protests demanding increased security and measures to improve the economy.

Opposition activists have accused the Venezuelan government of hypocrisy.

They allege that officials have armed "colectivos", pro-government groups which have clashed with anti-government protesters during demonstrations, while paying lip service to the disarmament plan.

On Sunday Mr Maduro said his government "continued to pursue the dream, the utopia of a Venezuela in peace", and promised to build "peace with love, justice and a will to work".

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