Armed assailants intercepted a bus traveling between the Venezuelan cities of Maracaibo and Caracas, robbing 54 people, a police spokesperson said.

Five robbers boarded the bus on a stretch of highway near the town of Moron, in the northwestern state of Carabobo, the spokesperson told Efe Thursday.

The assailants followed the bus early Wednesday in another vehicle, intercepted it when the driver slowed down and forced him to open the doors.

The spokesperson said an investigation is underway.

Violent crime is a major problem in Venezuela and the government has acknowledged its lack of success in lowering an annual homicide rate of roughly 48 per 100,000 inhabitants.

By way of comparison, Mexico, which has been racked by drug-related violence in recent years, has an annual murder rate of 22.9 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to a study published in April by the Washington Office on Latin America and Mexico's Colef think tank. EFE