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Jailed Venezuela police chief starts hunger strike

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News,World,Venezuela,South America

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A former police chief whose decade-long imprisonment has been taken up as a cause by Venezuela's opposition said in a letter made public Tuesday that he is going on a hunger strike to demand his release.

Ivan Simonovis is serving a 30-year sentence for aggravated murder related to his role in the death of pro-government protesters who rushed to the defense of then-President Hugo Chavez in a failed 2002 coup.

The 53-year-old Simonovis said in a letter released by lawyers that he is tired of waiting for Venezuela's justice system. He said that against the wishes of his family and despite his ill health, he will refuse to eat until he receives an answer to his lawyers' petition for a conditional release based on humanitarian grounds.

"Every day in this military prison has turned into an anxious roller coaster ride because I don't know if tonight, or early in the morning, as happened before, I'll end up in the emergency room," Simonovis wrote.

Simonovis, a former public safety director for greater Caracas, was hospitalized in January for stomach pains. His lawyers say he suffers from 19 different illnesses, including advanced osteoporosis.

Venezuela's opposition considers Simonovis a political prisoner and has been demanding his release as part of negotiations with the government that began in April to ease tensions after three months of anti-government protests.

As part of those talks, President Nicolas Maduro's government formed a medical commission to evaluate the inmate's health. But nothing has happened since, Simonovis' lawyer told The Associated Press, and Maduro has several times rejected out of hand an amnesty for the former police officer, accusing him of committing crimes against humanity.

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