At least two more people reportedly have died, taking the death toll to 23 since anti-government protests erupted across Venezuela at the beginning of April. Protesters have staged sit-ins on roads and highways.
At least two more people have died according to official sources as anti-government rallies across Venezuela once again turned violent on Monday.
Among those killed was a local government worker who was shot dead at a pro-government counter protest in the Andean state of Merida. Reports from the opposition party suggested that another person was killed during a rally in the western agricultural state of Barinas.
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Several other demonstrators are believed to be seriously injured and “between life and death,” according to public defender Tarek William Saab.
Monday’s deaths take the total number of dead up to 23. On Sunday, Venezuela’s Interior Ministry reported that one demonstrator was killed at a pro-government rally after being hit on the head with a frozen water bottle thrown from a high-rise. During the early hours of Friday morning, 11 people were electrocuted while trying to climb an electric fence.
Venezuela, plagued by a political and economic crisis, has been hit by a series of violent protests this months, triggered by the government-loyal Supreme Court’s decision to strip the opposition-controlled National Assembly of its last vestiges of power.
Although the decision was later reversed amid a barrage of international condemnation, protestors view the move as part of President Nicolas Maduro’s plot to forge a form of dictatorship.
The opposition has demanded fresh election and the release of jailed activists. However, the protests have taken place against the backdrop of a crippling economic crisis that driven people to anger and desperation.
“Peaceful protests across the country will continue until Mr Maduro respects the constitution and ends his internal coup,” Henrique Capriles, the would-be opposition candidate who was disqualified from public office, tweeted on Monday. “If there is no answer from Maduro’s corrupt drug-trafficking leadership, at the end of the day we will announce further action.”
Monday’s protests saw tens of thousands march along Caracas’ main highway, disrupting one of the main traffic arteries into the city.
The capital’s Francisco Fajardo highway was transformed into a plaza of sorts, as demonstrators sprawled in lawn chairs, enjoyed picnics and played cards. Protestor Juan Carlos Bautista told the Associated Press news agency that he passed the afternoon playing dominos. “We want to be free. I’m here fighting for my children and my children’s children,” he said.
Although the rally was reported to have been largely peaceful, a handful of protestors clad in bandanas launched stones at police, prompting authorities to fire tear gas into sections of the crowd.
Staged sit-ins also took place across all of Venezuela’s 23 states.
“In the morning they appear peaceful, in the afternoon they turn into terrorists and at night bandits and killers,” senior Socialist Party official Diosdado Cabello said of the anti-government protesters. “Let me tell them straight: we’re not going, Nicolas (Maduro) is not going.”
More than 1,400 people have been arrested throughout Venezuela since protests erupted in early April, according to the local rights group Penal Forum. Of those, 636 were still detained as of Monday.
dm/bw (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)