Death toll in nationwide Venezuela protests rises to 24

FRENCH PRESS AGENCY - AFP
CARACAS
Published 26.04.2017 00:36

Three people were killed in Venezuela on Monday in another day of nationwide protests against leftist president Nicolas Maduro, raising the death toll to 24 in weeks of anti-government demonstrations.

The latest casualties come on a day anti-Maduro demonstrators blocked major roads in the South American nation, and as the opposition called for a mass protest in Caracas on Wednesday.

The steady stream of anti-government marches, which began on April 1, usually begin peacefully but then degenerate into clashes with security forces and even looting at night.

Two government trucks in eastern Caracas were set alight on a freeway by masked protesters who poured oil on the road. Police nearby did not immediately intervene, AFP journalists saw. Elsewhere in the capital, riot police fired tear gas at another group of protesters who threw stones at them.

"We are blocking roads so that Maduro understands that he must leave. He has us enduring hunger. I can't find milk for my 16-month-old baby," said Amalia Duran, 41, a resident of the working class Caracas neighborhood of Petare.

"I'm here because I'm tired," added Yorwin Ruiz, 26, also protesting in Caracas. "I've been to more than 20 pharmacies searching for a simple antibiotic." Ruize hoped that with the continuous protests "we at least can get elections."

Opposition lawmaker Miguel Pizarro called for a mass demonstration on Wednesday, which he said will head downtown to protest outside one of three government offices -- but he refused to say which because he didn't want to give the government "72 hours to prepare" for the demonstrators.

Hundreds of people have been arrested and injured in the clashes, which the government and opposition blame on each other. However, the majority of demonstrators, who numbered in the thousands, rallied peacefully.

The return to violence in the Venezuelan streets after a weekend lull will further stoke international concern over the country, whose economy is imploding despite vast oil reserves.

Maduro, who says Venezuela is the victim of a U.S.-led capitalist plot, has stepped up a nationalization drive started by his late predecessor Hugo Chavez that has swept up plants and assets of foreign companies, including American ones. Authorities have also curbed the power of the National Assembly, which is dominated by opposition lawmakers.

The government has ruled out a presidential election this year, maintaining that Maduro will see out his term into 2018. Elections for regional governors due in December have been postponed.

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