Two killed in Venezuela protests

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A Venezuelan opposition activist throws a traffic cone into a burning barricade burns during a demonstration against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, on April 24, 2017. Photo: AFP

Caracas: Two people were killed in Venezuela in renewed violence, raising the death toll in three weeks of massive demonstrations against left-wing President Nicolas Maduro to 23, officials said.

Several others were seriously injured and “between life and death,” said public defender Tarek William Saab.

The latest casualties on Monday come on a day anti-Maduro demonstrators blocked major roads in the South American nation.

Two government trucks in eastern Caracas were set alight on a freeway by masked protesters who poured oil on the road.

Police nearby did not immediately intervene, AFP journalists saw.

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Trucks burn in flames during a demonstration by Venezuelan opposition activists against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, on April 24, 2017. Photo: AFP

Elsewhere in the capital, riot police fired tear gas at another group of protesters who threw stones at them.

However the majority of demonstrators, who numbered in the thousands, rallied peacefully.

The return to violence in the streets of Venezuela after a weekend lull was certain to further stoke international concern over the country, whose economy is imploding despite vast oil reserves.

Latin American countries and the United States have voiced concern at the unrest.

The population is suffering shortages of food, medicine and basic supplies. Riots and looting have occurred in several places.

The conservative-led opposition says government incompetence is to blame and calls the president a dictator. It wants early elections.

But Maduro, who has the backing of the armed forces, says Venezuela is the victim of a US-led capitalist plot.

He has stepped up a nationalization drive started by his late Socialist predecessor Hugo Chavez that has swept up plants and assets of foreign companies, including American ones.

Authorities have also curbed the power of congress, which is dominated by opposition lawmakers.

The two deaths on Monday happened in western Venezuela.

Saab said one man in the city of Merida “was demonstrating peacefully when he apparently received a gunshot.” He added in a television interview that the killed man was a pro-government demonstrator.

There were five people badly wounded in the city, he added.

The other man killed was in the nearby town of Barinas, a source in the prosecutor’s office told AFP.

The source did not specify whether he was an anti-Maduro protester or a pro-government activist.

But an opposition party, Justice First, said the protest the man was in was against Maduro when it was targeted by pro-government “paramilitaries.” It said two other people were wounded.

The government has ruled out a presidential election this year, maintaining that Maduro will see out his term into 2018.

Elections for regional governors due in December have been postponed.

Maduro said Sunday he wanted the regional elections “now” but did not indicate a possible date for those or local ballots that are due this year.

“I am ready for whatever the electoral authorities say,” he insisted.

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