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Venezuelan ambassador summoned by French over Alban death

By Jay Jackson, Tajikistan News
12 Oct 2018, 11:56 GMT+10

PARIS, France - France has summoned the Venezuelan ambassador to express its concern over the death of opposition councilman Fernando Alban, who Venezuela say killed himself after he was detained by Venezuelan intelligence police on what Venezuelan authorities say were suspicions he was involved in a plan to assassinate President Nicolas Maduro.

The Quai d'Orsay, in a statement released on Thursday, said the Venezuelan Ambassador Hector Michel Mujica Ricardo was summoned earlier in the day. "France hopes light will be shed on this death through an impartial and independent investigation," the statement said. No other details were provided.

Venezuelan officials say Fernando Alban jumped from the tenth floor of the state police agency's headquarters earlier this week.

France is not on its own in condemning the death and throwing doubt on the Venezuelan government's version of events.

The killing has brought widespread disbelief and anger in Venezuela. Dozens of protesters have been ringing the state police agency headquarters, some displaying posters and chanting "Maduro killer."

Alban, who was 56, was arrested on Friday at the Caracas International Airport after arriving on a flight from New York City. While he was in New York, he, along with other members of the First Justice Party met with leaders and diplomatic officials from various countries attending the United Nations General Assembly.

While the detention of opposition members and leaders is not unusual in Venezuela, the death of an opposition member while in the custody of the state is.

"There's no doubt this was an assassination," Opposition Leader Julio Borges said in Colombia, where he is in exile. "The only thing left for this government is torture, violence and destruction," he said.

Borges, who led the delegation to the United Nations, said Alban's wife had told him her husband was under intense pressure to testify against Borges to implicate him in the suspected plot to assassinate Maduro in August. The plan, according to Venezuelan authories was to kill Maduro with two explosive-laden drones.

Around 30 people have been arrested and have been jailed on suspicion they were involved. Maduro claims Borges, with the backing of the United States and Colombia, was behind the plot.

When Alban's death was announced this week, Venezuela's Chief Prosecutor Tarek William Saab said he was ordering an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death, which he described as a "suicide." Even as he was announcing the investigation, the chief prosecutor was detailing the police version of the events that had occurred.

Alban, he said, was in a transfer room at the police headquarters building, waiting to be taken to the court. At this time, said Saab, he asked to go to the bathroom. He then threw himself off the building, which is 10 floors up, he said.

The Alban death comes at the same time as the disappearance of prominent Saudi-born, Washington DC resident and The Washington Post reporter, Jamal Khashoggi, who some suspect was similarly murdered while in state custody.

U.S. Republican Sen. Bob Corker, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is in Venezuela for meetings with Maduro and members of the opposition, said he is disturbed by the reports about Alban's death.

"The government has a responsibility to ensure all understand how that could have happened," he tweeted.

The U.S. state department said it was seeking more information on the circumstances surrounding the death.

"That tragedy highlights a continuing pattern of human rights abuses in that country, repression, and excessive use of force," State Department, deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino said in a briefing.

Venezuela's Catholic bishops' conference and Luis Almagro, the head of the Organization of American States and a sharp critic of Venezuela's socialist government,according to The Associated Press, said Alban's death was "the direct responsibility of a torturing and homicidal regime."

"This criminal dictatorship should leave Venezuela now," he tweeted.

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