Venezuela death toll rises to 33 as two die from gunshot wounds
Two Venezuelans died from gunshot wounds during protests against socialist President Nicolas Maduro, witnesses and local media said today, pushing the death toll from almost two months of anti-government protests to 33.
Opposition demonstrators complaining of soaring prices and product shortages have vowed to remain in the streets until Maduro resigns, although there are few signs that the country's worst unrest in a decade will force him from office.
Argenis Hernandez, 26, was shot in the abdomen as he was demonstrating near a barricade in the central city of Valencia and died early on Saturday in a nearby hospital, according to local media reports.
A motorcyclist attempted to cross the barricade and opened fire on demonstrators when they would not let him through, wounding Hernandez.
Bus driver Wilfredo Rey, 31, died yesterday night after being shot in the head during a confrontation between demonstrators and hooded gunmen in the convulsed western city of San Cristobal, according to residents of the neighbourhood where the incident took place.
Rey had not been involved in the protests, they said.
Opposition street protests began in February over soaring consumer prices, product shortages and rampant crime. They intensified after three people were killed following a February 12 rally in downtown Caracas.
The demonstrations since then have ranged from peaceful marches and violent clashes between police and hooded protesters hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails.
They have also involved street barricades made of burning trash and debris, snarling traffic and angering drivers of all political persuasions.
MARCHES IN CARACAS
Opposition sympathizers accuse troops of using excessive force against demonstrators. Those complaints have helped spur the demonstrations.
Maduro says adversaries are seeking to destabilize the government as part of a Washington-backed coup similar to the one that briefly ousted late socialist leader Hugo Chávez in 2002.
His supporters say the barricades do not constitute peaceful protest because they violate citizens' right to free movement and prevent the ill from receiving emergency medical attention.
Prosecutors in recent days ordered the arrest of two opposition mayors following accusations they had not done enough to clear barricades in their municipalities.
Congress on Tuesday asked prosecutors to open a criminal probe of Maria Corina Machado, an opposition legislator and high-profile protest leader, for crimes including treason and inciting civil war in association with the unrest.
Demonstrators today gathered in different parts of Caracas in preparation for a march to denounce what they call a dictatorship by the Maduro government.
"We're here to demand the freedom of those detained (in the protests), for the political prisoners, and to oppose a corrupt government that criminalizes protests," said Manuela Silva, 42, a businesswoman.
Government supporters were preparing their own march into the center of Caracas in support of Maduro.
"They say we're violent, but their peaceful protests have already left more than 30 dead," said Jose Luis Garcia, a 21-year-old student who joined other red-clad demonstrators to show support for the government.
"They say they're democratic, but what they want is a coup."