CARACAS: Three more people were killed in protest-hit Venezuela’s north, as police fired tear gas and water cannon to push back scores of rock-hurling students in the capital.
About 3,000 students marched in Caracas to mark a month since the first deaths in weeks of anti-government demonstrations that have now killed at least 24 people.
Similar opposition protests took place in the cities of San Cristobal, Merida and Valencia.
The demonstrations have been fueled by public discontent over deteriorating living conditions in the oil-rich South American country, where violent crime, shortages and inflation have combined to create the most serious challenge yet for leftist President Nicolas Maduro.
A student and a civilian were killed during protests in Venezuela’s third city Valencia, while a member of the Bolivarian National Guard died in clashes in the nearby city of Naguanagua.
The governor of Carabobo state, home to both cities, blamed anti-government “snipers” for the student’s death in a friendly fire incident. But local media said Jesus Acosta, 20, died from a shot to the head near his home, adding that he was not participating in protests at the time.
Guillermo Sanchez, 42, died of a bullet wound and was shot outside his home, Valencia’s opposition Mayor Miguel Cocchiola said on Twitter.
Ameliach said Captain Ramso Ernesto Bracho Bravo died from a gunshot.
Since the protests began, opposition leaders and students, as well as government authorities, have accused each other of backing radical groups that attack demonstrations with firearms. The Caracas march had not been approved by authorities, with Maduro saying the demonstrators were simply looking for trouble.
The president announced this week he was banning any protests in the center of the capital as long as the opposition refuses to hold talks with the government.
But the students turned out anyway, chanting slogans and demanding the release of protesters detained in earlier demonstrations.
“We are sick of them not letting us march where we want,” said Juan Gonzalez, a 21-year-old student at the Central University of Venezuela.
“Today, we just wanted to go to the ombudsman’s office and they said no. But they give pro-government groups any permit they want.”
The students, standing just outside the the school’s gates, squared off against about 300 national police officers who blocked their access to the landmark Plaza Espana square.
Their march crossed the campus, and was trying to head all the way to the government ombudsman’s offices.
Student leader Hilda Ruiz told AFP the marchers also wanted authorities to respond to allegations of police torture, and to punish those responsible for the deaths of demonstrators.
When police lobbed tear gas, marchers largely scattered from the gas cloud. Some threw rocks in retaliation.
Maduro supporters, dressed in “Chavista” red, rallied for “peace and life.”
The anti-government protests first erupted on February 4 in the western city of San Cristobal, reaching Caracas on February 12 when three people were killed after an opposition protest ended in clashes with security forces.
South American foreign ministers are meeting in Santiago, Chile on the Venezuelan crisis.
“I want to reiterate the Chilean government’s wish to support and stand by the Venezuelan people and the government,” the country’s newly inaugurated President Michelle Bachelet said, stressing that the government was democratically elected.
Wishing Venezuelans “peace” in which to settle their differences, Bachelet added: “We will never support any movement that violently seeks to oust a constitutionally elected government.”
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