Venezuela clashes claim 9th fatality, opposition vows to keep up pressure

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A young man became the ninth person to die this month during demonstrations in Venezuela, authorities said Friday.

Melvin Guitan was wounded in Petare community east of Caracas when he was struck by a bullet during a protest being broken up Thursday by National Guard members deploying tear gas.

Guitan was taken to a hospital, where he died Thursday night.

Venezuela’s opposition renewed nationwide protests on Thursday to pressure President Nicolas Maduro to hold elections and improve a collapsing economy, and vowed to keep up pressure by staging three more protests in the next four days.

Thursday’s crowds were smaller than the hundreds of thousands of people who flooded the streets of Caracas and provincial cities on Wednesday, the latest and largest in several weeks of protests against what Maduro’s opponents condemn as a lurch toward dictatorship.

But still, thousands of people waving Venezuelan flags and shouting “No more dictatorship” took to the streets in the capital and across the oil-rich nation.

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The opposition’s leadership called for further protests in communities across Venezuela on Friday, a white-clad “silent” march in Caracas on Saturday to commemorate the eight people killed during unrest this month, and a nationwide “sit-in” blocking Venezuela’s main roads on Monday.

That sets the stage for prolonged disruption in volatile Venezuela, where security forces have been blocking rallies this month and protests have dissolved into clashes with rock-throwing youth.

“Today the people of Venezuela showed they are committed to this cause,” said opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara during a news conference late on Thursday, urging people to stay on the streets.

Government officials dismiss the protests, characterized by street barricades and clashes with security forces, as violent and lawless efforts to overthrow Maduro’s leftist government with the backing of ideological adversaries in Washington.

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The opposition counters that Maduro, deeply unpopular as Venezuelans grapple with triple-digit inflation and shortages of food and basic consumer goods, is seeking to stay in power indefinitely by barring opposition leaders from office and quashing independent state institutions.

“Protests will need to grow and persist over the coming weeks to force a political transition,” Eurasia analyst Risa Grais-Targow said in a note on Thursday.

“The opposition’s response to regional elections, which the National Electoral Council will probably call in the coming days, will be key to maintaining momentum in the streets.”

The renewed wave of protests was sparked by a Supreme Court move in March to assume the powers of the opposition-led Congress, a move that it largely reversed a few days later. They were further fueled when the government barred the opposition’s best-known leader, two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, from holding public office.

Maduro on Thursday night said Capriles wrongly accused authorities of killing university student Paolo Ramirez in the restive Tachira state near Colombia on Wednesday. Her boyfriend and mother have both said she was shot down by government supporters chasing her on motorbikes after a protest.

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“Immediately the global media and those irresponsible people, including that trash called Capriles, came out to accuse the government, the revolution, the army, the National Guard,” Maduro said, wearing a white doctor’s gown during a televised address meant to showcase Venezuela’s health system, which is in fact crumbling.

“I’ve authorized a lawsuit, a complaint for the honor of these people who have been accused. If he has to go to jail, he should go and pay for this defamation, this slander, all the crimes he’s committed,” added Maduro.

Capriles responded on Twitter that Maduro, “like all dictators,” is a compulsive liar, and called on Venezuelans to keep up protests.

AP and Reuters contributed to this report.



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