Venezuela prosecutor: Protest victim 'killed by National Guard'

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Juan Pablo PernaleteImage source, Alejandro Cegarra
Image caption,
Juan Pablo Pernalete had been demonstrating against President Nicolas Maduro

A student who died at an anti-government protest in Caracas last month was killed by a tear gas canister fired by the National Guard, Venezuela's chief prosecutor says.

Juan Pablo Pernalete died of cardiogenic shock after being hit by an object in the chest.

A number of government officials had said he had been killed by hooded men with a bolt gun.

Venezuela has seen almost daily anti-government protests since April.

The country's deepening economic and political crisis has led to triple-digit inflation, a high crime rate and clashes between protesters and security forces.

In a news conference, Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega said witness statements and forensic evidence showed that Juan Pablo Pernalete had been hit by a tear gas canister.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Luisa Ortega showed the kind of tear gas canister Juan Pablo Pernalete was hit with

She said she hoped to be able to identify the officer who fired the canister "in the coming days".

Firing tear gas canisters directly at protesters could be lethal and was banned by both international and national regulations, she said.

Juan Pablo Pernalete's parents welcomed Ms Ortega's announcement, describing it as a "positive first step".

Jose Gregorio Pernalete and Elvira Llovera told BBC News Online it was "one of the first acts of justice for our son".

Officials including Information Minister Ernesto Villegas, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez and deputy leader of the governing socialist PSUV party Diosdado Cabello had previously denied the National Guard was responsible.

Mr Cabello had blamed "gunmen in the service of the bourgeoisie" and insisted there were no National Guard personnel in the area at the time.

Ms Ortega, once considered an ally of President Nicolas Maduro, has in the past months distanced herself from the government.

In March she said a Supreme Court ruling stripping the opposition-controlled National Assembly of its powers broke the law.

She has also been critical of President Maduro's plans to convene a citizens' assembly to rewrite the constitution.