Venezuela protest death toll continues to rise

At least 24 people have died in violence related to protests for and against President Nicolas Maduro's government which have entered their fourth week. Twelve of those died during the demonstrations.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Anti-Maduro protesters build fire barricades on the streets of the capital, Caracas. April 24, 2017.

Gunmen killed two more people during political unrest in Venezuela on Monday, bringing the total number of deaths at pro- and anti-government protests to 12 this month, as the demonstrations entered the fourth week with mass sit-ins to press for early elections. Altogether 24 people have died in violence surrounding the civil unrest.

The latest deaths come amid a month of protests that have sparked politically-motivated shootings and clashes between security forces armed with rubber bullets and tear gas and protesters wielding rocks and Molotov cocktails.

Large and violent protests against President Nicolas Maduro and his government took place in the capital, Caracas, on Monday.

A 42-year-old man who worked for local government in the Andean state of Merida died from a gunshot in the neck at a rally in favour of Maduro, the state ombudsman and prosecutor's office said.

Another 54-year-old man was shot dead in the chest during a protest in the western agricultural state of Barinas, the state prosecutor's office added without specifying the circumstances.

Seven others were injured in both places.

Eleven people have also died during night-time looting.

The ruling Socialist Party accuses foes of seeking a violent coup with US connivance, while the opposition says he is a dictator repressing peaceful protest.

A demonstrator at a rally against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas. April 24, 2017. (Reuters)

What does the opposition want?

The opposition's main demands are for elections, the release of jailed activists and autonomy for the opposition-led congress. But protests are also fuelled by the crippling economic crisis in the oil-rich nation of 30 million people.

"I have an empty stomach because I can't find food," said Jeannette Canozo, a 66-year-old homemaker, who said police used rubber bullets against protesters blocking a Caracas avenue with trash and bathtubs in the early morning.

Demonstrators wore the yellow, blue and red colours of Venezuela's flag and held signs denouncing shortages, inflation and violent crime as they chanted, "This government has fallen!"

In the capital, they streamed from several points onto a major highway, where hundreds of people sat, carrying bags of supplies, playing card games, and shielding themselves from the sun with hats and umbrellas.

Opposition supporters attend a rally against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela. April 24, 2017. (Reuters)

In western Tachira, at another of the sit-ins planned for all of Venezuela's 23 states, some played the board game Ludo, while others played soccer or enjoyed street theatre.

At protests in southern Bolivar state, a professor gave a lecture on politics while some people sat down to play Scrabble and others cooked soup over small fires in the streets.

Following a familiar daily pattern, the demonstrations were largely peaceful until mid-afternoon, when scattered skirmishes broke out and the shooting incidents occurred.

Maduro is "not going"

"In the morning they seem peaceful, in the afternoon they become terrorists and at night bandits and killers," Socialist Party official Diosdado Cabello said of the opposition. "Let me tell them straight ... Nicolas (Maduro) is not going."

This month's turbulence is Venezuela's worst since 2014 when 43 people died in months of mayhem sparked by protests against Maduro, the 54-year-old successor to late leader Hugo Chavez.

TRTWorld and agencies