Venezuelan anti-government rallies turn violent, two dead

Remigio Civitarese
Aprile 20, 2017

Henrique Capriles Radonski, the major opposition leader in Caracas, called for another protest on Thursday in a news conference after the protests were repressed.

Nicolas Maduro has been careful not to antagonise the new U.S. president, but the Trump administration has recently stepped up criticism of Venezuela's government.

Hundreds of thousands of Opposition supporters flooded the streets of Caracas and Provincial cities on April 19, the latest and largest in several weeks of protests, -dubbed the "mother of all marches" - against what they condemn as the government's lurch toward dictatorship.

Authorities have confirmed at least five people were killed during protests last week, as the opposition pushes an agenda that includes calls for an early presidential election and the freeing of jailed political activists. The opposition says he has morphed into a dictator and accuses his government of using armed civilians to spread violence and fear. During what was referred to as "the mother of all marches" scuffles between security forces and protesters broke out, as the death toll rises to at least seven lives so far this month. But a hospital director confirmed the death of an 18-year-old student, Carlos Moreno, who was on his way to play soccer when shots were fired near groups of opposition and government supporters.

Activists say more than 400 people were arrested during protests on Wednesday.

Socialist Party officials dismiss the opposition marches as efforts to destabilize the government, pointing to barricades of burning trash mounted by protesters and vandalism of public property. Venezuelans face chronic, severe shortages of food, medicine and other basics in what once was Latin America's wealthiest country.

The European Commission says: "All concerned, including members of the security forces, have a responsibility to act in full compliance with the rule of law and human rights". Overnight, a National Guard sergeant was killed and a colonel injured when their squad was attacked with gunfire while trying to control disturbances in a city near Caracas, the chief prosecutor's office said. "And we will change this country, whether they like it or not".

A Supreme Court decision in March to assume the powers of the opposition-led Congress sparked a wave of protests that have not ebbed, even though the court has partly reversed the measure in the face of worldwide condemnation.

Tens of thousands of angry protesters took to the streets in 26 different points in attempt to march to the Ombudsman's office.

"I don't have any food in the fridge", said protester Jean Tovar, 32, who held rocks in his hands ready to throw at military police in Caracas.

"We're going to go on struggling", she said Wednesday, "because the one who tires, loses".

On Wednesday, Maduro tried to enlist supporters to defend the Bolivarian revolution against capitalism, calling pro-government citizens to the street to fight what he called a USA -backed coup.

On Wednesday afternoon he addressed a cheering red-shirted crowd in Caracas to declare that a "corrupt and interventionist right-wing" had been defeated. The government last year abruptly postponed regional elections the opposition was heavily favored to win and cut off a petition drive to force a referendum seeking Maduro's removal before elections late next year. He also said authorities in recent hours had rounded up unnamed members of an underground cell of conspirators at Caracas hotels, including some who were allegedly planning to stir up violence at the march.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement Tuesday warning that the "international community" would join in any Venezuelan response to the "criminal repression of peaceful democratic activity". Two demonstrators were killed, as a political crisis in this failing state deepens.

"I've just graduated. and what I've got in the bank isn't enough for a bottle of cooking oil", said Gregorio Mendoza, a 23 -year-old engineer in Puerto Ordaz. "We're poorer every day".

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