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International

Venezuela protests spread to poor areas, two more deaths amid unrest

11:10, Thursday, 13 April, 2017
Venezuela protests spread to poor areas, two more deaths amid unrest

Venezuelans in poor areas blocked streets and lit fires during scattered protests across the country 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 President Nicolas Maduro, groups in Caracas' traditionally pro-government hillside slums and low-income neighborhoods took to the streets, witnesses and opposition lawmakers reported.

Maduro foes were galvanized by footage of a crowd in the south-eastern Bolivar state heckling and throwing objects at the closely-protected leader during a rally on Tuesday, before state television cut off the broadcast.

In the western Lara state, two people, aged 13 and 36, were killed during unrest on Tuesday, the state prosecutor's office said in a statement. Lara's opposition governor Henri Falcon 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 in late March 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 during the last week, according to authorities. Many are bracing for further violence in a country 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 email seeking comment.

Maduro has said that under a veneer of pacifism, a U.S.-backed right-wing opposition is encouraging violent protests in a bid to topple his government and get its hands on Venezuela's oil wealth.

On Wednesday night, he said the heckling incident a day earlier in the city of San Felix was an opposition attempt 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."

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