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Venezuelans pay last respects to slain actress

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 10, 2014 at 3:59 pm •  Published: January 10, 2014
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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Hundreds of Venezuelans paid their final respects Friday to a popular actress whose slaying in front of her 5-year-old daughter has reignited debate about the nation's rampant crime.

Former Miss Venezuela Monica Spear and ex-husband Thomas Henry Berry were shot to death Monday night while apparently trying to resist a robbery attempt after their car broke down on an isolated stretch of highway.

Fellow artists and relatives of Spear, some holding pictures of the actress, formed long lines to bid farewell at a funeral in Caracas. Spear's sister threw flowers to weeping fans.

While authorities swiftly arrested several suspects, the killings focused attention on President Nicolas Maduro over the government's failure to bring down violent crime that has soared during more than 14 years of socialist rule.

So far Maduro's response has been to extend an olive branch to the opposition, which he normally derides, and collect proposals for a united front to combat crime.

David Smilde, an analyst who has studied citizen security in Venezuela for the Washington Office on Latin America, said Maduro may also be seeking to take advantage of public outrage to roll back a civilian police reform started by the late President Hugo Chavez and instead expand the military's role in policing the streets.

Smilde said one sign of a militarized approach was this week's naming of retired army Gen. Ronald Blanco la Cruz as head of Venezuela's top police academy. He replaced Soraya El Achkar, a human rights activist who spearheaded the police reform.

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