Venezuela: more than 14,000 homicides in 2011

Venezuela's top security official said Thursday that more than 14,000 people were slain in the country last year and that a new anti-crime plan aims to address the problem.

Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said the country's homicide rate was 50 homicides per 100,000 people, one of the highest rates in Latin America. That's about the same as the 48 per 100,000 people that he had previously reported for 2010.

"We recognize that the country has a high, serious rate. It's a serious problem," El Aissami told reporters. "We're acting and facing it with firm decisions."

President Hugo Chavez's government this week is launching a new anti-crime plan. Chavez is up for re-election in October, and his rival Henrique Capriles has been criticizing the government's record in addressing crime.

El Aissami said the plan includes a stepped-up police focus on high-crime areas as well as community programs intended to keep young people away from crime, among other initiatives.

He also said the country's fledgling national police force is projected to grow to more than 16,000 officers in September when about 9,500 new trainees join the force.

The government had not previously released homicide statistics for last year.

The watchdog group Venezuelan Violence Observatory has provided an unofficial tally of more than 19,000 killings last year. But El Aissami said that was incorrect and that a total of 14,092 people were slain in 2011 in the country.