Death toll mounts to eight in Venezuelan protests

Sunday 23 February 2014 07.23
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People attend a march against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in San Cristobal, capital of the western border state of Tachira, Venezuela,
People attend a march against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in San Cristobal, capital of the western border state of Tachira, Venezuela,
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro waves next to his wife Cilia Flores (R) as she holds flowers during a march in Caracas
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro waves next to his wife Cilia Flores (R) as she holds flowers during a march in Caracas
A girl holds a sign reading: 'I have no job. I don't have milk for my feeding bottle' during a protest against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas
A girl holds a sign reading: 'I have no job. I don't have milk for my feeding bottle' during a protest against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas
Thousands of people attend a protest against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas
Thousands of people attend a protest against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas

A student and a young supermarket worker were the latest fatalities from Venezuela's political unrest as the death toll from 10 days of violence rose to at least eight.
              
Both sides are mourning supporters killed in the worst turmoil since President Nicolas Maduro narrowly won an election.

The election took place in April 2013 to replace the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.
              
The government blames "fascist groups" seeking a coup like the one that briefly ousted Chavez 12 years ago.

The opposition is accusing troops and pro-Maduro militants of attacking peaceful demonstrators.

Opposition officials and local media in central Carabobo state said a 23-year-old student, Geraldine Moreno, died in hospital after being shot in the face with rubber bullets as security forces broke up a protest there on 19 February.

Officials in the capital Caracas said a 29-year-old man, Santiago Enrique Pedroza, was killed late yesterday.

He was killed when he rode his motorcycle into a cable strung across a main road in the eastern, middle-class neighbourhood of Horizonte.

Anti-government protesters have repeatedly blocked streets in the area with rubbish, which they sometimes set on fire. 

Police and National Guard troops have often used tear gas to scatter demonstrators before clearing away the obstacles.

Five people have died from gunshot wounds, beginning on 12 February when two opposition supporters and a pro-government loyalist were shot.

They were shot after a peaceful opposition protest in central Caracas that degenerated into running battles between riot police and hooded demonstrators.

Two other people were shot dead at protests around the country in the following days, and a sixth was run over by a car during a melee.
              
The focus for the most serious trouble has been in the western states of Tachira and Merida, where the government has vowed to take "special measures" to restore order.
              
Both sides marched in the two states today, but residents said the situation appeared calmer, with no new reports of clashes, injuries or arrests.

In the centre of the capital and in the provincial cities of Lara, Aragua and Trujillo, tens of thousands of government supporters decked out in mostly Socialist red marched at festive rallies dubbed "Women for Peace."

Meanwhile in Caracas, just a few blocks from where the motorcyclist died overnight, several thousand opposition supporters gathered.

They gathered in the El Marques neighbourhood to hear speeches and chant slogans.
              
"We're against violence. This a peaceful demonstration, 100%," said student Juan Perez, 25, as he purchased a yellow,blue and red hat - the colours of the Venezuelan flag.
              
Nearby, some opposition protesters waved large photographs of suspected state security agents.

They were captured on video appearing to fire pistols at demonstrators who were hurling stones at police after 12 February.

Speaking at a news conference late yesterday, Mr Maduro said he would not defend anyone shooting at protesters.

Mr Maduro has publicly criticised Sebin for having agents on the streets, and on 18 February he replaced its director.
              
The opposition are demanding that the president resign over rampant crime, high inflation, shortages of basic products, and what they see as repression of political opponents.
              
Mr Maduro says the protests are a pretext for a planned coup,similar to the short-lived one in 2002. 

However, there have been no indications that the military, which was the decisive factor 12 years ago, would turn on him now.
              
Yesterday, Mr Maduro urged US President Barack Obama to hold talks with his government and suggested the two nations restore ambassadors.

The request came just a day after his government slammed the US leader's comments on Venezuela as a "new, gross interference."