Fri, Apr 14, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Venezuela protests spread to poor areas, two dead

REVITALIZED:Low-income areas have joined in the protests against the ruling party, stoked by an economic crisis that has left many without food and medicine

Reuters, CARACAS

A protestor sets a barricade on fire during a protest against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Barquisimeto on Wednesday.

Photo: EPA

Venezuelans in poor areas blocked streets and lit fires during protests across the nation on Tuesday night, and two people were killed during the growing unrest in the midst of a crippling economic crisis.

In a worrying sign for leftist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, groups in Caracas’ traditionally pro-government hillside slums and low-income neighborhoods took to the streets, witnesses and opposition lawmakers said.

Maduro’s foes were galvanized by footage of a crowd in the southeastern Bolivar State heckling and throwing objects at the closely protected leader on Tuesday during a rally, before state television cut the broadcast.

In the western state of Lara, two people, aged 13 and 36, were killed during the unrest, the state prosecutors’ office said in a statement.

Lara Governor Henri Falcon of the opposition blamed violence on “infiltrators” and “delinquents” who roamed on motorcycles after an energy blackout.

“They go by neighborhoods and shoot people who are protesting,” said Falcon, a former member of the ruling party, urging a negotiation to end Venezuela’s political crisis.

The opposition says Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader who took office four years ago, has morphed into a dictator after a Supreme Court decision late last month to assume the functions of the opposition-led congress.

The court quickly overturned the most controversial part of its decision, but the move breathed new life into the fractured opposition movement.

Two young men had already been killed in protests over the last week, authorities said, and many are bracing for further violence in a nation that is racked by crime and has one of the world’s highest murder rates.

Witnesses said residents of a number of working-class Caracas neighborhoods blocked streets with trash or burning debris on Tuesday night, describing confused street melees and clashes with security forces.

The capital appeared calm on Wednesday, although some roads were charred and littered with broken glass.

Government officials did not provide an official account of the events, and the Information Ministry did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Maduro has said that under a veneer of pacifism, a US-backed right-wing opposition is encouraging violent protests in a bid to topple his government and obtain Venezuela’s oil wealth.

On Wednesday night, he said the heckling incident a day earlier in the city of San Felix was an attempt by the opposition to “ambush” him that was thwarted by his loyalists.

“They had prepared an ambush and the people neutralized it,” he said. “I want to thank the people of San Felix for their expressions of fervor, passion, love and support.”

Maduro’s adversaries are demanding the government call delayed state elections, which polls suggest would not go well for the ruling Socialists.

They also want an early presidential vote after authorities quashed a recall referendum against Maduro last year.

A ban on opposition leader Henrique Capriles, governor of Miranda State, from holding office for 15 years drew broad criticism as he was seen as the opposition’s best presidential hope.

However, it is Venezuela’s extended economic crisis that has ordinary people fuming.

Venezuelans have been suffering food and medicine shortages for months, leading many to skip meals or go without crucial treatment. Lines of hundreds form in front of supermarkets as people jostle for hours under the hot sun hoping price-controlled rice or flour would be delivered.

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