The streets of Caracas were tense on Wednesday with scores of protesters clashing with Venezuela's National Guard. Young Venezuelan protesters lobbed bottles and bags of faeces at soldiers who fought with tear gas on Wednesday to block the latest march in more than a month of nationwide protests against socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
The latest violence comes after the death of a motorcyclist who was shot in the head in Caracas. The state prosecutor’s office identified him as 27-year-old Miguel Castillo, without providing further details.
TRT World's Juan Carlos Lamas has more from Caracas, Venezuela.
With trouble flaring in various parts of Venezuela, there was also another death in the Andean city of Merida. Motorbike taxi driver Anderson Dugarte, 32, died on Wednesday after being injured in a protest, the state prosecutor's office said.
Protesters blame the government's heavy-hand for the rising death toll, which news agencies place between at least 38 or 39 in almost 40 days of civil unrest.
Decrying Venezuela's economic crisis and demanding elections, protesters faced off with heavily-armed riot police. In response, heavy vehicles were brought in to disperse the protesters with water cannon and tear gas used on the crowd.
The protests come after Maduro announced the creation of a new super body called a ''constituent assembly,'' with authority to rewrite the constitution and shake up public powers. Foes dismiss it as an attempt to keep the socialists in power by establishing a biased new assembly.
Rights group Penal Forum says 1,991 people have been detained since April 1, with 653 still behind bars.
Opposition leaders have complained the government is processing 250 detainees via military courts.
Cracks in the military
Venezuelan opposition leader and Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles pointed to possible cracks in the military under the unpopular president, saying there are some within the military ranks who want to ''defend the constitution.''
Capriles joined thousands of demonstrators in the streets of Caracas on Wednesday in the latest protest, part of a six-week-long wave of unrest, as demonstrators prepared to throw faeces at security forces, adding to the customary rocks, petrol bombs and tear gas.
Many Venezuelans are closely watching the armed forces, who have the potential to tip the balance if they disobey government instructions or give Maduro a nudge behind the scenes.
Top armed forces officials have been pledging loyalty in public, though Capriles on Friday said 85 military officials had been arrested for dissent.
On Wednesday he went a step further saying some of them wanted to ''defend the constitution.''
''These 85 military officials, their family members asked me to make it known to all the media, they're (the military officials) mostly from the army, many of them are from the class of 2012, and, just so that you know, there is a group that wants to defend the constitution,'' Capriles said during a tear gas-filled demonstration.
Dying mothers and infants
Thousands of babies died in Venezuela last year, official data shared by local media on Tuesday revealed, highlighting the tragic impact of the country's economic crisis amid political tension.
The health ministry, which released the data, said deaths of infants under the age of one soared by 30 percent in 2016, a year when hospitals and protesters complained of severe shortages of medical supplies.
Deaths of mothers linked to childbirth soared by two-thirds meanwhile, according to the data published by the ministry – the latest such figures since 2015.
It said 11,466 babies died in 2016, up from 8,812 the year before. The report gave no comparative rate in relation to the number of births.
Cases of malaria rose by 76 percent to more than 240,000.
The collapse in prices for Venezuela's crucial oil exports has left it short of cash to import medicine and basic goods.
The Venezuelan Medical Federation says hospitals have only three percent of the medicines and supplies that they need to operate normally.
Demanding justice and democracy
The opposition, which has majority support in Venezuela after years of being in the shadow of the ruling Socialist Party, is demanding that delayed state elections be held. It wants the 2018 presidential vote be brought forward.
The opposition also wants the government to free scores of jailed activists, allow humanitarian aid from abroad to offset a brutal economic crisis, and respect the independence of the legislature where the opposition won a majority in 2015.
Highlighting vandalism and violence by young masked protesters – mostly to protect themselves from tear gas – Maduro says opponents are seeking a coup with US support and harbour ''terrorists'' and ''murderers'' in their ranks.
Since the anti-Maduro protests began in early April, at least 39 people have died, with victims including supporters of both sides, bystanders and members of the security forces.