Demonstrators have for weeks staged rallies and set up barricades
to demand the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro, leading to
clashes with security forces and government supporters.
Motorcycle drivers clearing a barricade in the middle-class
neighborhood of Los Ruices were attacked by residents from nearby
buildings who threw rocks and later shot at them, National Guard
Gen. Manuel Quevedo told Reuters.
The motorcyclist who was killed, Jose Cantillo, who was in his early
20s, was shot in the neck, Quevedo said.
"Make no mistake, the National Guard and the armed forces are going
to continue patrolling the streets to restore order," he said in an
interview at the scene of the events.
A second motorcycle driver was wounded and is in critical condition,
President Maduro said in a televised broadcast.
Troops arrived in some 20 armored vehicles and used tear gas to
disperse several hundred demonstrators, Reuters witnesses said.
Residents continued throwing rocks from above, but angry passers-by
threw them back and attempted to force their way into buildings in
an apparent attempt to find the assailants.
The troops used riot shields to shelter other soldiers from the rain
of stones as they knocked down barricades and cleared debris
including a car that demonstrators had burned in the morning, the
Maduro on Wednesday called on pro-government organizations including
groups known as 'colectivos,' which opposition leaders describe as
paramilitary groups, to help keep order in the streets.
The demonstrations began as sporadic protests against chronic
product shortages and inflation that reached 56 percent in 2013, but
expanded into a nationwide movement after three people were killed
after a February 12 march, unleashing the country's worst unrest in
Since then the protests have been more focused on complaints of
excessive use of force in breaking up protests and demands for the
release of imprisoned activists including Leopoldo Lopez, who
spearheaded the nationwide protest efforts.
Though street protests helped briefly topple the late socialist
leader Hugo Chavez in a botched 2002 coup, there seems little chance
the current unrest could lead to a Ukraine-style overthrow.
Government supporters slam the protests as dangerous and damaging
disruptions of public order that have prevented sick people from
receiving emergency treatment and stopped citizens from carrying out
Maduro, a former bus driver who calls himself the 'son' of the late
Chavez, has called for a meeting of presidents of the Unasur group
of Latin American nations to address the unrest.
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"Over time we are going to shut them down," Maduro said in a
televised broadcast on Thursday afternoon. "They'll be remembered as
violent vandals who have killed good men and women of this country."
Maduro on Wednesday cut ties with Panama on charges the country's
president was conspiring with the United States to intervene in
Venezuela's affairs. During a rally on Thursday he gave the
Panamanian ambassador and three other diplomats in Venezuela 48
hours to leave the country.
The rally also included Hollywood actor Danny Glover, a long time
supporter of Venezuela's revival of socialism who met with Maduro as
part of Wednesday's first anniversary of Chavez's death.
"I'm very proud to be here with you as we commemorate and celebrate
a true man of the people, Hugo Chavez; his memory lives with us,"
Glover told a crowd of government supporters clad in signature red
A Venezuelan television network on Wednesday premiered U.S.
filmmaker Oliver Stone's documentary called "My Friend Hugo."
The protests have been a mix of peaceful demonstrations by student
leaders and violent exchanges between security forces and hooded
protesters hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails.
Barricades made of debris and burning trash have angered even
government critics and have led to fights between demonstrators and
drivers attempting to push their way through.
Protesters have increasingly defied opposition leaders' calls to
rein in violence and focus on convincing skeptical Maduro supporters
to change their views.
One prominent opposition deputy was widely pilloried via Twitter
this week for calling on anti-government demonstrators to respect
Wednesday's celebration of the anniversary of Chavez's death from
(Reporting by Eyanir Chinea; writing by Brian Ellsworth;
James Dalgleish; and Dan Grebler)
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