Two dead, 23 people injured in violent Venezuela protests
Two people were killed and 23 injured during standoffs at the end of an anti-government rally in Caracas, escalating the worst bout of unrest in Venezuela since protests against President Nicolas Maduro's April 2013 election.
One of the deceased was Juan Montoya, a 23 year-old government supporter, while the other one was Basil Da Acosta, an opposition student, General Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz confirmed.
45 people have been detained, while 4 police vehicles were burned and the Public Ministry was attacked.National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello commented on the first death: "He's a comrade assassinated by the right-wing fascist hordes."
The fatalities came at the end of rival demonstrations to support and denounce Maduro's government after several weeks of opposition street protests.
The raucous and colorful competing rallies in the Venezuelan capital had passed off largely peacefully, until some 100 young opposition supporters began burning tyres in the streets, witnesses said.
Police responded with teargas and rubber bullets.
Under the banner "The Exit," meaning Maduro's departure, opposition groups have been holding mostly small protests around the country for the last two weeks, to complain about rampant crime, corruption, and economic hardships.
Some have degenerated into rock-throwing skirmishes with security forces in the first sustained unrest since last year's post-election riots that killed half a dozen people.
Maduro, a 51-year-old former bus driver and union activist who has pinned his presidency on maintaining the legacy of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, says right-wing "fascists" are seeking to destabilize his government and topple him.
"A Nazi-fascist current has emerged again in Venezuela, they want to lead our nation to violence and chaos," Maduro told pro-government demonstrators clad in the red colors of the ruling Socialist Party at their rally.
"Do not fall for their provocations!" he said in a speech just minutes before the violence.
A few blocks away, thousands of opposition supporters had gathered in a square and marched toward some government buildings, chanting and blowing horns and whistles.
"We don't want a Cuban dictatorship," some chanted, in a reference to accusations that Maduro is a stooge of Cuba's President Raul Castro and his brother Fidel.
"You need therapy to live in Venezuela!" read one banner, held up by members of a university psychology department.
The marches were held as part of Wednesday's "Youth Day" commemoration that celebrates the participation of students in a 19th century independence battle against colonial authorities.
"We are the young revolutionaries, hand-in-hand with the Venezuelan government," shouted one Maduro supporter at the pro-government rally in Caracas.
Opposition activists said armed pro-government supporters belonging to militant community groups known as "colectivos" attacked and shot at people protesting in the western Andean city of Merida, injuring five.
"They were attacked by the colectivos while exercising their right to peaceful protest," said Tamara Suju, who is tracking the violence for Popular Will.
Maduro blamed the Merida incident on opposition provocateurs posing as Socialist Party sympathizers.