Venezuela protests rumble as demonstrators, troops face off
Venezuelan security forces and demonstrators faced off in streets blocked by burning barricades in several provincial cities as protests escalated against President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government.
At least five people have died since the violence broke out last week, the most serious unrest since Maduro was narrowly elected in April 2013. There have been scores of injuries and arrests.
The protesters, mostly students, want Maduro to resign, and blame his government for violent crime, high inflation, product shortages and alleged repression of opponents.
Today's most serious unrest was in the western Andean states of Tachira and Merida, which have been especially volatile since hardline opposition leaders called supporters onto the streets in early February demanding Maduro's departure.
In the city of San Cristobal, which some residents are describing as a "war zone", many businesses remained shut as students and police faced off again. The government says it is taking "special measures" to restore order in Tachira.
"This is not a militarization," Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said on state TV from San Cristobal.
"We are here to work for the great majority of people in Tachira. ... Before we have dialogue, we must have order."
Maduro says he will not let his rivals turn Tachira into "a Benghazi," referring to the violence-wracked Libyan city.
Wednesday night saw one of the worst bouts of violence the capital Caracas has seen during nearly three weeks of unrest.
Around a square in the wealthier east of the city, security forces fired teargas and bullets, chasing youths who hurled Molotov cocktails and blocked roads with burning piles of trash.
"I declare myself in civil disobedience," read one banner held up by demonstrators on a city road.