Deadly unrest grips Venezuela as students rally


Caracas (AFP) – A student was shot dead at a meeting in Venezuela Thursday, prosecutors said, as anti-government protests raged in the streets.

Crowds of students clashed with riot police in the latest in a wave of unrest as the opposition vowed no respite in its drive to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

His opponents accuse him of trying to strengthen his grip on power and delay elections by launching moves to rewrite the constitution.

More than 30 people have been killed in just over a month of protests against Maduro, whose opponents blame him for food shortages in the oil-rich nation.

  • Students clash with cops –

The student leader was at a meeting in the northern state of Anzoategui when “one of those present approached him and shot him several times before fleeing on a motorbike,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

It did not say whether the killing was directly linked to the protests, but it came amid high tension, as students pushed on with a wave of street rallies.

Crowds of them marched in Caracas, some clashing with riot police who blocked their way and fired tear gas.

Hooded youths responded by throwing Molotov cocktails and stones.

The prosecutors said a policeman died from a gunshot suffered during a protest Wednesday in the western city of Carabobo.

That brought the death toll from the street unrest to 33, not including the student who was killed at the meeting in circumstances that remained unclear.

  • Capriles on ‘violence’ –

The opposition wants a vote on removing Maduro from office.

The president, elected in 2013, says the crisis is a US-backed capitalist conspiracy.

The opposition and government have accused each other of fomenting violence.

“I don’t know how long the protests are going to last,” senior opposition leader Henrique Capriles told AFP in an interview.

“If we were being violent, if we were not being democratic, we would already have toppled the government.”

  • Constitution, elections –

In his latest crisis maneuver, Maduro on Wednesday launched procedures at the electoral council to elect a “constituent assembly” to draft a new constitution.

“This is the path of peace and reconciliation for Venezuela,” he said on television on Thursday.

“It is a complex battle, but no one will take our homeland from us.”

Private polls indicate that more than 70 percent of those interviewed do not support Maduro.

He said the constitutional reform body would not include political parties with seats in the opposition-controlled National Assembly, but representatives of social groups traditionally loyal to him.

Maduro’s center-right opponents and some international powers said the move is an attempt to dodge local elections this year and a presidential poll set for late 2018.

“Since the government cannot win elections, it wants to dismantle the system for holding them,” Capriles told AFP.

  • Attorney General breaks ranks –

Attorney General Luisa Ortega broke ranks with the government over the political crisis.

She told the Wall Street Journal that the government should ensure people’s right to demonstrate freely, without arbitrary arrests.

“We can’t demand peaceful and legal behavior from citizens if the state takes decisions not in accordance with the law,” the Journal quoted her as saying on Wednesday.

  • Military allegiance –

Venezuela has seen three attempted military coups since 1992.

The current unrest has come close to matching that of 2014, when clashes killed 43 people.

Despite the country’s chaos, Maduro retains the military’s public backing — one thing that analysts say could yet tip the balance against him.

“What happens if the National Guard (military police) says they are not going to continue the repression?” Capriles said.

“Will Maduro’s position be sustainable?”

    <figure><figcaption>Crowds of students clashed with riot police in Caracas
        <span>Copyright AFP FEDERICO PARRA</span>
      </figcaption><img src="" width="768" height="530"><figcaption>An injured opposition activist is assisted after clashes with riot police at the Central University of Venezuela on May 4, 2017
        <span>Copyright AFP RONALDO SCHEMIDT</span>
      </figcaption><img src="" width="768" height="569"><figcaption>Riot police protect themselves with their shields after students of the Central University of Venezuela threw Molotov cocktails during a protest 
        <span>Copyright AFP FEDERICO PARRA                      </span>
      </figcaption><img src="" width="768" height="511"><figcaption>Students from the Central University of Venezuela march during a protest against the government in Caracas on May 4, 2017
        <span>Copyright AFP RONALDO SCHEMIDT</span>
      </figcaption><img src="" width="768" height="432"><figcaption>Venezuela: clashes as protests rage on in Caracas
        <span>Copyright AFP Jesus Olarte</span>
      </figcaption></figure><figure><video width="696" height="392"><source src="" type="video/mp4"></source></video></figure>