Venezuela death toll soars to 20 in weeks of protests

More than 20 people were taken to the hospital amid anti-government protests in Venezuela's capital, Caracas, the country's National Assembly deputy Jose Manuel Olivares said.

The opposition yesterday called for protesters to march in silence to the Catholic Church's episcopal seats nationwide in a show of condemnation of the government.

The latest wave of protests was triggered by a Supreme Court decision on 29 March to take over powers from the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

Three other people were killed during protests on Wednesday and Thursday. The court walked back the measure after global condemnation, but Maduro's government further fueled the protests by barring the opposition's most popular politician, Henrique Capriles, from holding office for 15 years. Vicente Paez, a local councilman, said Guitian was an employee of a Caracas-area city governed by an opposition mayor but didn't join the protests.

The news comes as the nation has been gripped by three weeks of anti-government protests that have left nearly a dozen dead on both sides of the political divide.

Venezuela's high court, which has consistently backed leftist president Nicolas Maduro, strips lawmakers of their immunity from prosecution, clearing the way for them to face prosecution.

Riot police and pro-government vigilantes fought running battles with protesters demanding the ouster of President Nicolas Maduro on the capital's east, west and south sides, witnesses said.

The 17-year-old was shot by motorcycle-riding gunmen who also threw tear gas canisters into a crowd of protesters, Amadeo Leiva, head of the Clinicas Caracas Hospital which treated him, told AFP.

Opposition leaders have promised to keep up their protests, demanding that Maduro's government call general elections, free nearly 100 jailed opposition activists and respect the autonomy of the opposition-led Congress. The opposition is planning Monday sit-ins to block highways.

General Motors announced early Thursday that it was closing its operations in Venezuela after authorities seized its factory in the industrial city of Valencia, a move that could draw the Trump administration into the escalating chaos engulfing the nation.

Meanwhile in the global scene, most countries in America wish for a peaceful settlement to the conflict and are leaning on the opposition's side, although long-term allies of the Maduro regime, such as Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, are supporting the thesis that it is all a conspiracy to promote a coup against Maduro or an intervention by foreign powers.

The opposition says the country can no longer cope with the chronic shortage of basic goods, medicine and a lack of investment. The country has debt payments still coming due this year of around $6 billion.

Thursday, Maduro said the opposition was ready to begin a political dialogue, which his opponents denied. He said the subsidiary of Spain's Telefonica "sent millions of messages to users every two hours" in support of Wednesday's protests.

"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.

  • Leroy Wright