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Fatal shooting mars Venezuela election campaign

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CARACAS, Venezuela — Jason Valero was so excited about the possibility that Henrique Capriles could unseat President Hugo Chavez that he took a few weeks off from his job as a dump truck driver to work on the opposition presidential candidate's campaign.

Valero also planned to volunteer during the Oct. 7 election at a polling station. On Saturday, he joined a campaign caravan in his native rural state of Barinas, driving his Mitsubishi Montero with his wife and 15-year-old daughter.

Chavez supporters blocked the road in the western state, and Valero and others got out of their cars in an attempt to persuade the protesters to let them pass.

Suddenly, gunshots rang out and Valero was bleeding on the pavement.

Valero's younger brother, Ramon, riding in another car, rushed to his side. Jason Valero later died, one of two Capriles supporters slain in a shooting that has inflamed tensions ahead of Venezuela's presidential election on Sunday.

"He died fighting for a change," Ramon Valero told The Associated Press on Monday in a phone interview from Barinas, while the family prepared for the funeral.

Capriles demanded that the authorities carry out a "serious investigation" to determine those responsible.

"Why does a Venezuelan have to fall because of intolerance? Why does a campaign event have to be attacked... presumably by government sympathizers?" Capriles said at a news conference on Monday in Caracas.

One suspect has been arrested in the killings, Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said on Sunday. His name has not been released.

Chavez lamented the violence at a rally on Sunday in western Zulia state. "It's not with violence that we're going to face each other. It's vote against vote. It's with ideas, it's with peace," Chavez said.

Capriles later questioned Chavez's stance, saying the president has long vilified his opponents using "a violent, aggressive discourse."

Chavez and his justice minster described the violence as a "confrontation," but opposition supporters denied that, saying they were simply attacked. A video posted on YouTube, which circulated in Venezuelan media, showed the two groups arguing in the street, and then people scattering as shots rang out.

Capriles noted that those who had blocked the road wore red pro-government T-shirts, and that those who had gotten out of their cars to talk "were attacked with gunfire."

Another opposition supporter, Omar Fernandez, was shot in the neck and later died at a hospital. A third man, local campaign photographer Hector Rojas, was hospitalized with serious wounds, opposition politician Pedro Castillo said.

People in the caravan had simply wanted to make a swing through the area and had tried to tell the Chavez supporters "we didn't want any sort of problems," said opposition politician Rafael Riera, who also witnessed the shooting. Some people had gotten out of a truck nearby and fired shots, Riera said.

"Justice should be done," Valero's 24-year-old brother said. He recalled playing baseball and in the rivers of Barinas with his elder sibling when they were children.

Jason Valero, an athletic man who wore a goatee, was a car aficionado and until recently his pride and joy was a 1969 Mustang with red flames painted on the front. Before selling the car, Valero posed with it in a photo that he posted on his Facebook page, wearing sunglasses and smiling.

Valero had been working in Caracas driving his truck but returned to his home state in the past month to help with the Capriles campaign, his brother said. Their father is also active in the party Primero Justicia, or Justice First, and has been a candidate for local mayor.

Recently, Valero's brother said they had been talking hopefully about the future. Valero told him "that he had come back to dedicate himself 100 percent to politics, to see if we can get out of this," the brother said, referring to Chavez's nearly 14 years as president.

Ian James on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ianjamesap