Deadly unrest grips Venezuela as students rally

2017-05-05 06:16
A young woman who was overcome by tear gas shot by tiot police is carried away by fellow demonstrators when opposition activists clashed with riot police in Caracas. (AFP)

A young woman who was overcome by tear gas shot by tiot police is carried away by fellow demonstrators when opposition activists clashed with riot police in Caracas. (AFP)

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Caracas - A student was shot dead at a meeting in Venezuela on Thursday, prosecutors said, as anti-government protests raged in the streets.

Crowds of students clashed with riot police in the latest in a wave of unrest as the opposition vowed no respite in its drive to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro's opponents accuse him of trying to strengthen his grip on power and delay elections by launching moves to rewrite the constitution.

According to the latest toll provided by prosecutors on Thursday, 35 people have been killed in just over a month of protests against Maduro, whose opponents blame him for food shortages in the oil-rich nation.

News of the latest deaths - up from a toll of 33 earlier on Thursday - came as organisers announced a women's march to be held on Saturday.

Protesters at the women's rally, to take place in downtown Caracas, are urged to wear white, a traditional show defiance against what organisers have branded a "repressive" Maduro government.

Students clash with cops

The student leader was at a meeting in the northern state of Anzoategui when "one of those present approached him and shot him several times before fleeing on a motorbike," the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

It did not say whether the killing was directly linked to the protests, but it came amid high tension, as students pushed on with a wave of street rallies.

Crowds of them marched in Caracas, some clashing with riot police who blocked their way and fired tear gas.

Hooded youths responded by throwing Molotov cocktails and stones.

The prosecutors said a policeman died from a gunshot suffered during a protest on Wednesday in the western city of Carabobo.

That brought the death toll from the street unrest to 33, not including the student who was killed at the meeting in circumstances that remained unclear.

Capriles on 'violence'

The opposition wants a vote on removing Maduro from office.

The president, elected in 2013, says the crisis is a US-backed capitalist conspiracy.

The opposition and government have accused each other of fomenting violence.

"I don't know how long the protests are going to last," senior opposition leader Henrique Capriles told AFP in an interview.

"If we were being violent, if we were not being democratic, we would already have toppled the government."

Constitution, elections

In his latest crisis maneuver, Maduro on Wednesday launched procedures at the electoral council to elect a "constituent assembly" to draft a new constitution.

"This is the path of peace and reconciliation for Venezuela," he said on television on Thursday.

"It is a complex battle, but no one will take our homeland from us."

Private polls indicate that more than 70% of those interviewed do not support Maduro.

He said the constitutional reform body would not include political parties with seats in the opposition-controlled National Assembly, but representatives of social groups traditionally loyal to him.

Maduro's center-right opponents and some international powers said the move is an attempt to dodge local elections this year and a presidential poll set for late 2018.

"Since the government cannot win elections, it wants to dismantle the system for holding them," Capriles told AFP.

Attorney General breaks ranks

Attorney General Luisa Ortega broke ranks with the government over the political crisis.

She told the Wall Street Journal that the government should ensure people's right to demonstrate freely, without arbitrary arrests.

"We can't demand peaceful and legal behavior from citizens if the state takes decisions not in accordance with the law," the Journal quoted her as saying on Wednesday.

Military allegiance

Venezuela has seen three attempted military coups since 1992.

The current unrest has come close to matching that of 2014, when clashes killed 43 people.

Despite the country's chaos, Maduro retains the military's public backing - one thing that analysts say could yet tip the balance against him.

"What happens if the National Guard (military police) says they are not going to continue the repression?" Capriles said.

"Will Maduro's position be sustainable?"

Read more on:    nicolas maduro  |  venezuela

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