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Five held in Venezuela murders that sparked anger

Written by: Staff

CARACAS, Venezuela, Apr 8 (Reuters) Venezuelan authorities said they arrested five suspects linked to the kidnapping and execution-style killings of three young brothers and were seeking two others in the crime that sparked angry protests.

Students and residents took to the streets of Caracas this week after police on Tuesday found John Bryan, Kevin and Jason Faddoul, aged 17, 13 and 12, shot to death more than a month after they were kidnapped on their way to school.

''In the case of the Faddoul brothers, five people have been arrested,'' Justice Minister Jesse Chacon told reporters yesterday.

''We have identified the two who directly fired the weapon. They have not been captured yet.'' Investigators said the brothers, who held joint Venezuelan and Canadian nationality, were stopped at a fake roadblock by a group of men in police uniforms as they were being driven to school on February 23. They were found dead, huddled together outside Caracas alongside the body of the family's driver.

A week after the boys were taken, the kidnappers demanded a ransom of more than 4 million dollars.

For many Venezuelans, the Faddoul killings highlighted fears over violent crime in the oil-producing country, where gun killings, robberies and kidnappings are common, especially in the poor urban barrios that surround Caracas.

During this week's protests, a local newspaper photographer, Jorge Aguirre, was shot and killed by an unknown assailant who sped away on a motorbike.

Crime has become a challenge for left-wing President Hugo Chavez, whose popularity remains above 50 per cent after spending billions of dollars in oil revenue on programs for the poor. He faces re-election in December.

Critics say the socialist former soldier has become more authoritarian and has failed to tackle basic issues such as corruption and crime. Violence top polls asking Venezuelans about their key concerns.

Authorities have promised to arrest any officers involved in recent kidnappings and overhaul the policing system to root out corruption and criminal activity. Dozens of police are under investigation for suspected extra-judicial killings.

Reuters OM VP0635

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