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US accuses Venezuela spies of 'involvement' in suspicious death

Authorities say opposition figure committed suicide while in custody; the US and others say he was tortured and killed.

Hundreds of Venezuelans demanded justice at the funeral of an opposition activist who died in government custody as the United States called out Caracas for its "involvement" in his death.

Fernando Alban - a 52-year-old Caracas city council member accused of taking part in a failed drone attack on President Nicolas Maduro - was in pre-trial detention on Monday at the time of his death.

Authorities say he committed suicide by jumping from a 10th-floor window of the headquarters of the state intelligence service after asking to go to the toilet.

Alban was arrested on Friday at the capital's international airport upon arrival from a trip to New York City to galvanise world opinion against Maduro's socialist government.

Opposition leaders, backed by several foreign governments, have accused Maduro's government of torture and killing Alban.

Both the United Nations and the European Union have called for an investigation into his death.

Alban was buried on Wednesday in a cemetery in the eastern part of the capital after mourners walked several kilometres in a funeral procession.

"Maduro's dictatorship is death," said one placard held by a young man. "Justice!" another said.

Among them was Maria Betancourt, who never met Alban, but felt the need to show support for the late political leader.

"He represented in his fight what we all want: liberty in Venezuela, a democratic Venezuela," she said. "We want what everybody in the world wants - opportunity. Not this disaster we're living."

'Involvement' condemned

The United States joined the chorus of condemnation from the international community over Alban's death - and pointed the finger of blame at Maduro.

"The United States condemns the Maduro regime's involvement in the death of Venezuelan opposition councilman Fernando Alban," the White House said in a statement.

"The Trump administration will continue to increase pressure on the Maduro regime and its insiders until democracy is restored in Venezuela."

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted his own condemnation, placing blame for Alban's death on Maduro's government.

On Wednesday, Venezuela's Attorney General Tarek William Saab, who is close to Maduro, again dismissed the idea of an assassination.

"He died from blunt force trauma linked to the fall... There is no evidence of mistreatment prior to the fall," Saab told reporters, reading from an autopsy report.

Alban was among at least 15 people arrested and charged for alleged participation in the August 4 drone incident, which Maduro has portrayed as an assassination attempt.


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