Man set on fire during Venezuela protests

CARACAS, May 22 (Reuters) - Photographer Marco Bello has covered many violent scenes during seven weeks of anti-government protests in Venezuela, but he witnessed a particularly shocking incident over the weekend when a crowd set a man on fire.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators opposed to President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government had been marching down a highway, and when security forces blocked their way, the rally descended into clashes around east Caracas.

"I spotted a man running in front of me as a group of protesters, most of them hooded and with makeshift shields, were chasing him," said Bello, 47.

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Man set on fire during Venezuela protests
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Man set on fire during Venezuela protests
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH A man who was set on fire by people accusing him of stealing during a rally against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro runs amidst opposition supporters in Caracas, Venezuela, May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello TEMPLATE OUT . VENEZUELA OUT. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY SEARCH "BELLO FIRE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATHPeople stand around a man who was set on fire by people accusing him of stealing during a rally against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello TEMPLATE OUT. VENEZUELA OUT.
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATHPeople stand around a man who was set on fire by people accusing him of stealing during a rally against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello VENEZUELA OUT. TEMPLATE OUT
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATHOpposition supporters stand around a man who was set on fire by people accusing him of stealing during a rally against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello TEMPLATE OUT. VENEZUELA OUT.
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF DEATH OR INJURYAn opposition supporter runs after a man who was set on fire by people accusing him of stealing during a rally against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello TEMPLATE OUT VENEZUELA OUT.
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATHA man who was set on fire by people accusing him of stealing during a rally against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro runs amidst opposition supporters in Caracas, Venezuela, May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello TEMPLATE OUT . VENEZUELA OUT. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATHOpposition supporters stand around a man who was set on fire by people accusing him of stealing during a rally against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello VENEZUELA OUT. TEMPLATE OUT. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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"I followed them, and some 100 meters down the street, the protesters caught the man and surrounded him. When I walked up and went through the circle of people to take pictures, someone had already poured gasoline over the man and set him on fire."

Though Maduro accused the mob of attacking the man, whom he identified as 21-year old Orlando Figuera, because he was pro-government, Bello said they were calling him a thief.

"All I heard throughout was that he was being accused of trying to steal from a woman. I didn't hear anyone accusing him of being a pro-government infiltrator," Bello said.

During Venezuela's economic and political crisis, lynchings have become common, killing about one person every three days according to monitoring group Venezuelan Observatory of Violence.

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Elderly Venezuelans protest against the government
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Elderly Venezuelans protest against the government
A nun (R) confronts riot security forces while rallying against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Riot security forces uses a pepper spray as elderly opposition supporters confront them while rallying against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Elderly opposition supporters cover their faces after being pepper sprayed while confronting riot security forces during a rally against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello
Elderly opposition supporters rally against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Opposition supporters confront riot security forces while rallying against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Opposition supporters rally against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
A police officer tries to calm the people down as elderly opposition supporters rally against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Opposition supporters rally against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Opposition supporters confront riot security forces while rallying against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Elderly opposition supporters confront riot security forces while rallying against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello
Opposition supporters confront riot security forces while rallying against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Elderly opposition supporters confront security forces while rallying against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
An opposition supporter confronts riot security forces with a sign that reads "No more repression" during a rally against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Elderly opposition supporters confront riot security forces while rallying against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Riot security forces uses a pepper spray as elderly opposition supporters confront them while rallying against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
An opposition supporter in a wheelchair carries a sign with a Venezuela's constitution glued to it and that reads "Do not change it, obey it!" while rallying against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Veron
Elderly opposition supporters confront riot security forces while rallying against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Opposition supporters confronts riot security forces while rallying against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
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With flames on his back, the man ran through the crowd, hit a motorbike on the ground, and tore off his shirt. Some people chased him and threw rocks, while others tried to calm the aggressors and formed a protective circle as the fire abated.

The man survived, though with severe burns.

"I have tried to avoid seeing the photos, they affected me," said Bello, who believes passionately in chronicling his nation's troubles and is deeply saddened by the violence.

"One day a few weeks ago, I saw an armored vehicle run over a youth, then a guy who caught light from a burning motorbike. A bit later, I saw a mother holding her little girl to protect her from teargas and running. That day was tough, especially when I saw the girl. I have a four-and-half-year-old daughter."

How does he cope with such terrible experiences?

"On Saturday, I focused on the technical aspects of the photos. It is a form of defense, I suppose. The mob was crazy, you cannot reason with them, they do not think. Later, when things calmed down, I thought, 'This is mad'."

Originally a computer technician, Bello started taking photos as a hobby about a decade ago, turning professional in 2013 when former leader Hugo Chavez died.

"It was an important moment in Venezuela's history."

(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne in Caracas; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

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