A protester was fatally shot in Caracas on Thursday as Venezuelan riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a second straight day of mass demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro.
The opposition is looking to keep up the pressure on Maduro to force him to hold new elections and turn around Venezuela’s collapsing economy, vowing to launch more rallies in the coming days.
The mayor of Sucre municipality, a section of Caracas where the Petare neighbourhood is located, announced on Twitter that a protester had been killed in Thursday’s unrest.
“With much pain, I report the death by gunshot of Melvin Guaitan, humble neighbourhood worker of Sucre municipality #Petare,” wrote Carlos Ocariz.
“We demand that the culprits be investigated and punished!” Ocariz added.
Guaitan is the ninth person to die this month during demonstrations that have brought tens of thousands of people opposed to Venezuela’s socialist government into the streets.
New clashes erupted Thursday as police in the beleaguered nation tried to stop thousands of marchers as they reached a vital freeway in the capital. Protesters set fire to trash bins and tore down a billboard to use as a barricade as officers fired water cannons and a police helicopter hovered overhead.
One protester draped in a Venezuelan flag defiantly marched up to an armoured truck to halt its advance. The moment quickly went viral on social media as Venezuela’s own Tiananmen Square moment.
The unrest was sparked by a Supreme Court decision last month to strip Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress of its few remaining powers, a move that was later reversed amid a storm of international criticism and claims that the move was an attempted “coup”. The ruling reinvigorated Venezuela’s fractious opposition, which had been struggling despite widespread anger at Maduro over widespread food shortages, triple-digit inflation and rampant crime.
Opponents are pushing for Maduro’s removal in early elections and the release of dozens of political prisoners. The government last year abruptly postponed regional votes that the opposition was heavily favoured to win. It also halted a petition aimed at forcing a referendum seeking Maduro’s removal before elections scheduled for late 2018.
The opposition has rejected Maduro’s calls for dialogue, saying the only way forward would be new elections. In a posting on Twitter, senior opposition leader Henrique Capriles slammed Maduro as a “dictator”.
“No one believes him, however, about dialogue, which the Venezuelans will do with their VOTE!” he wrote.
Protesters blame Maduro – heir of the leftist “Bolivarian revolution” launched by late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in 1999 – for a longstanding economic crisis marked by severe shortages of food, medicine and basic goods.
The opposition also accuses the president of letting troops and gangs of armed thugs violently repress demonstrators, who have nevertheless vowed not to waver in their campaign to oust him.
A number of major Latin American governments – including Mexico, Argentina and Brazil – have called on Venezuela to restore democratic order and halt the violence that has erupted at the protests.
Maduro has blamed the movement against him on the United States.
GM closes operations
General Motors announced early Thursday that it was closing its operations in Venezuela after authorities seized its factory in the industrial city of Valencia.
The plant was confiscated on Wednesday in connection with an almost 20-year-old lawsuit brought by a former GM dealership in western Venezuela.
Washington said Thursday that it was reviewing the details of the GM case. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the United States hoped to resolve the matter “rapidly and transparently”.
Hundreds of workers desperate for information about their jobs gathered at the plant to meet with government and military officials as well as representatives of the dealership that brought the lawsuit. The neglected factory hasn’t produced a car since 2015, but GM still has 79 dealers that employ 3,900 people in Venezuela.
The naked protester Hans Wuerich with a Bible, protesting against Marxist tyrant Nicolás Maduro. Photo by: AP Photo/Fernando Llano.