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US Senate panel approves Venezuela sanctions

A US Senate committee on Tuesday greenlighted new sanctions on Venezuelan officials responsible for violent crackdowns against anti-government student protesters that have left 42 people dead.

WASHINGTON: A US Senate committee on Tuesday greenlighted new sanctions on Venezuelan officials responsible for violent crackdowns against anti-government student protesters that have left 42 people dead.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 13-2 in favour of the sanctions draft, which now goes to the Senate floor and is on track for possible passage by Congress.

The bill would allow President Barack Obama to freeze assets and ban US visits by any current or former Venezuelan government official responsible for "directing significant acts of violence or serious human rights abuses against persons associated with the anti-government protests in Venezuela."

It also allows the White House to crack down on those who ordered the arrest or prosecution of demonstrators, or who are deemed as having provided assistance including financial support for such acts.

The bill would commit US$15 million to help non-governmental organisations, including pro-democracy groups as well was independent media in Venezuela.

The protests began in February as an outpouring of anger against the inability of President Nicolas Maduro's socialist administration to tamp down the high crime rate, but quickly spread and included protests against the lack of household basics like milk and toilet paper in this oil-rich nation.

Committee chairman Senator Robert Menendez, who with Senator Marco Rubio has led the push on sanctions, said Tuesday's vote sends "a very clear message."

It tells those responsible, including government and military officials, security forces and civilian support groups, "will face consequences if they continue violating the human rights of these Venezuelan students who are peacefully protesting for the betterment of their nation and their families," Menendez said.

The move comes a week after a House panel advanced similar legislation.

The State Department meanwhile has lobbied against sanctions for now, instead placing hope in a dialogue initiated in April between Venezuela's government and the opposition.

The protests began in February amid rapidly deteriorating socio-economic conditions including the shortage of commodities, soaring inflation and high crime.

The opposition has called for an independent commission to investigate the events that have left 42 dead, 800 wounded and 252 people detained.

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