Fresh clashes, deaths in Venezuela political struggle


Caracas (AFP) – Venezuelan police fired tear gas at stone-throwing anti-government protesters Wednesday in an ongoing wave of clashes that have killed 28 people, but President Nicolas Maduro defied the mounting pressure.

In scenes that have been playing out all month in the crisis-wracked country, riot cops also fired water cannon to force back demonstrators in the capital and masked protesters threw petrol bombs.

The center-right opposition blames Maduro for severe shortages of food, medicine and other essentials in the oil-rich country, and wants general elections to exit the crisis.

“I want to die in a Venezuela that is free of dictatorship,” one protester, Elizabeth Freites, 77, told AFP.

“I have been protesting for nearly a month and I am going to continue until we get out of this situation.”

  • School evacuated –

While security forces stopped protesters advancing, government supporters staged a counter-rally near the presidential palace in central Caracas.

Maduro has vowed to defend the socialist “revolution” of his late predecessor Hugo Chavez.

“We are mobilized for the revolution and for our president,” said one of his supporters, Freddy Gutierrez.

“We call on the opposition to leave the path of violence.”

Children were evacuated from a school near the clashes to escape tear gas, with teachers holding handkerchiefs over the pupils’ faces, AFP reporters saw.

Maduro himself appeared on television at an unrelated youth event where he called for music and dancing.

A recent survey by pollster Venebarometro indicated that seven out of 10 Venezuelans were opposed to Maduro.

  • Death toll climbs –

The opposition accuses the government of using the security forces to repress peaceful protests, and of sending gun-toting thugs to attack them.

The government in turn accuses the opposition of paying armed agitators to stir up violence.

The attorney general’s office reported the deaths of two more men, aged 20 and 22, during protests, bringing the toll from this month’s unrest to 28.

It said prosecutors were investigating who was responsible for the deaths.

Officials have said several of those killed were shot.

Senior opposition leader Henrique Capriles accused the authorities of “savage repression,” ahead of Wednesday’s march.

“We are going to resist. We are going to persist. We will not surrender.”

  • Rights groups voice alarm –

Maduro says the shortages and the protests are part of a US-backed plot to topple him.

The crisis deepened late last month when the Supreme Court moved to seize power from the National Assembly — the only lever of state authority Maduro and his allies do not control.

The court partly backtracked after an international outcry. But the opposition was further galvanized when authorities banned Capriles from politics.

In just under a month of unrest, more than 400 people have been injured, and nearly 1,300 arrested, the attorney general said.

That includes 14 arrested journalists, their union said Tuesday. More than 100 journalists have been assaulted while covering the protests, it added.

Rights group Amnesty International urged the government to stop the “persecution” and “arbitrary detention” of protesters.

  • International concern –

Falling prices for Venezuela’s crucial oil exports have slashed its revenues, leading to critical shortages and looting.

The country suffered its last major wave of unrest in 2014, when 43 people were killed in anti-government riots.

The situation has raised international cries of concern. But Maduro has been resisting opposition pressure for more than a year.

The Organization of American States held an extraordinary meeting on the Venezuelan crisis on Wednesday. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has previously branded Maduro, an elected socialist, a “dictator.”

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, however, warned that Venezuela could move to leave the bloc if it turns against Maduro.

“There is very great pressure from the international community for political negotiations between the opposition and the government,” said political analyst Carlos Raul Hernandez.

“But I do not think general elections will be possible.”

    <figure><figcaption>Venezuelan opposition activists clash with riot police during a protest march against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on April 26, 2017
        <span>Copyright AFP JUAN BARRETO</span>
      </figcaption><img src="" width="694" height="768"><figcaption>Venezuela political unrest
        <span>Copyright AFP Gal ROMA</span>
      </figcaption><img src="" width="768" height="511"><figcaption>A schoolgirl covers her nose and mouth to avoid breathing tear gas shot by police at opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro marching in Caracas on April 26, 2017
        <span>Copyright AFP RONALDO SCHEMIDT</span>
      </figcaption><img src="" width="768" height="477"><figcaption>Members of the National Guard crack down on opposition demonstrators during a march against President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas on April 26, 2017
        <span>Copyright AFP JUAN BARRETO</span>
      </figcaption><img src="" width="768" height="511"><figcaption>A crowd of opposition demonstrators marches through Caracas on April 26, 2017
        <span>Copyright AFP JUAN BARRETO                        </span>
      </figcaption><img src="" width="768" height="432"><figcaption>Venezuela opposition defiant as protesters shot dead
        <span>Copyright AFP Jesus Olarte, Leo Ram&iacute;rez.-</span>
      </figcaption></figure><figure><video width="696" height="392"><source src="" type="video/mp4"></source></video></figure>