(AP) CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuelan authorities said Friday they are confident they can quickly solve the kidnapping of Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos.
The abduction on Wednesday was the first known kidnapping of a major leaguer in a country that has scores of players on big league rosters, and it has brought a renewed focus on rising violent crime in Venezuela.
According to MASN.com, Venezuelan police issued a statement Friday afternoon saying that they believe Ramos is alive and denying a report that he had been found dead in Valencia.
Deputy Justice Minister Edwin Rojas said investigators are making progress in gathering evidence and have physical descriptions of the kidnappers based on the accounts of relatives.
"We have faith in the quick resolution of this case," Rojas told state television. He said President Hugo Chavez's government "is working 24 hours a day to solve this case."
Armed men seized Ramos at gunpoint Wednesday outside his home in a working-class neighborhood in the city of Valencia. Authorities said Thursday that they had found a stolen SUV used by the kidnappers abandoned in a nearby town.
Neighbors held a candlelight vigil outside his home and prayed for Ramos, as did fans at a baseball game in Valencia on Thursday.
At games in three Venezuelan stadiums Thursday night, players and fans observed a minute of silence in support of Ramos. Some held signs reading: "Free Wilson Ramos!"
Teams added green to their uniforms, some sporting a green ribbon on one shoulder, others a green "W" for Wilson embroidered on their jerseys.
Security has increasingly become a concern for Venezuelan players and their families as a rising wave of kidnappings has hit the wealthy as well as the middle class.
Venezuelan police said 618 kidnappings were reported in 2009, and the numbers have grown rapidly in recent years. In 1998, when Chavez was elected, just 52 kidnappings were reported. Security experts say the real number of kidnappings today is much higher because many cases aren't reported to authorities.
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