OAS Chief Condemns Venezuela as March Unfolds

Two Venezuelan students died on Wednesday after being shot during protests against unpopular populist President Nicolas Maduro, increasing turmoil in the volatile nation amid a crippling economic crisis. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay on Monday signed a joint statement asking for the Venezuelan government "to guarantee the right to peaceful demonstration", and avoid violence against protesters.

The chief prosecutor's office reported Thursday that a National Guard sergeant was killed and a colonel injured when their squad was attacked with gunfire while trying to control disturbances in a city near Caracas. His death marked the sixth fatality in nearly three weeks of escalating protests.

In the capital of Caracas, organizers have announced 26 meeting points and said marchers would try to reach the city center to turn over a list of their demands to government officials.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has accused the U.S. State Department of encouraging Venezuelan opponents to attempting a government overthrow.

Maduro claims that beneath a peaceful facade, the protests are little more than opposition efforts to foment a coup to end socialism in Venezuela.

"Yes, we are concerned about that situation. We're watching it closely and working with others, particularly through the OAS [Organization of American States] to communicate those concerns to them", Tillerson added in a brief press conference.

This week, opposition leaders called demonstrators to the streets on Wednesday in what they dubbed the "mother of all marches". "I am really anxious about what is going on".

A 17-year-old boy died after being shot by an unidentified man on a motorcycle in the head, witnesses said.

"Today the people stood by Maduro!" the president said, blasting his rivals as "anti-Christs".

But Yoneici Paredes, a youth leader supporting Maduro, took a different view: "Today, this youth is convinced that socialism is the way ... for us to build Venezuela's power and the message is to contribute our grain of sand to be a better country in Venezuela".

Anti-government protesters have described it as Venezuela's "second independence day", while government supporters say they are defending the country and its oil industry.

Tens of thousands of protesters demanding elections and denouncing what they consider to be an increasingly dictatorial government were met Wednesday by a curtain of tear gas and rubber bullets as they attempted to march to downtown Caracas. The court - stacked with appointees of Maduro and Chavez - reversed its position in the wake of domestic and global outcries about an attempted power grab.

Crowds swelled to hundreds of thousands, including Maduro supporters who held a counter-demonstration in the capital at the urging of the president, and clashes were reported across the country during the most sustained protests since 2014.

Unidad Venezuela, a coalition of opposition parties, also organized marches in each of the country's 24 states. The court's ruling was later reversed, however, tensions remained in the country, which is suffering from a severe economic crisis. The government last year abruptly postponed regional elections the opposition was heavily favoured to win, and cut off a petition drive to force a referendum seeking Maduro's removal before elections late next year.

Maduro, for his part, has rejected the unrest as manufactured by forces outside Venezuela's borders. "Whoever wants to see the script written to generate violence, death ... read the statement. There is the plan", he said.

Capriles, who Deutsche Welle calls "the opposition's most promising candidate for the coming elections in 2018", was banned last week from holding office for 15 years - a move Capriles says he does not recognize.

  • Leroy Wright