3 killed as Venezuelans hit streets in massive anti-Maduro protest (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)
Massive rallies are being held in Caracas and other cities following weeks of violent demonstrations that had already left five people dead and resulted in clashes between anti-government demonstrators and security forces.
Wednesday’s rally was organized by the opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable. Despite calls for the military to turn on the president, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez has pledged the army’s loyalty to Maduro.
A Venezuelan army serviceman was killed in the clashes in the municipality of Los Salias in the state of Miranda. He was identified as Sergeant San Clemente Barrios Neomar by the Venezuelan ombudsman, Tarek William Saab, who claimed that the sergeant was shot dead by a sniper’s bullet. The serviceman’s death was confirmed by Maduro’s ally and member of National Assembly Diosdado Cabello on state TV.
There have been reports of clashes between demonstrators and riot police.
In Caracas, where hundreds of thousands reportedly took to the streets, Carlos Moreno, 18, was shot in the head when rival demonstrators clashed, according to Reuters. Although he was rushed to hospital, he died of his injuries a short time later.
"There was an exchange of words, the situation got complicated and, well, they shot the guy," said eyewitness Arhiam Cano. "When they took the young man to (a nearby clinic), the government supporters left."
Later, in the city of San Cristobal near the Colombia border, a 24-year-old woman, Paola Ramirez, was shot by armed men on motorbikes as she was leaving the protest, Reuters reports her relatives as saying.
The suspect in the murder of Ramirez was arrested Wednesday night, also in the state of Tachira. The perpetrator, who was identified by Saab as Ivan Alexis Pernia Perez, reportedly confessed to the murder.
Political turmoil in Venezuela reached the boiling point at the end of last month after the supreme court ruled it would take on the functions of the opposition-led National Assembly. Critics decried the decision as an attempt to install a dictatorship. The measure was later reversed following international outcry. Authorities, however, banned top opposition leader Henrique Capriles from public office for 15 years.
Maduro claims recent protests are nothing more than opposition efforts to stir up violence and topple his government. Government supporters are also marching Wednesday in a counter-demonstration rejecting calls for a coup.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US is "concerned that the government of Maduro is violating its own constitution and is not allowing the opposition to ... organize in a way that expresses the views of the Venezuelan people."
"We are concerned about that situation. We're watching it closely and working with others ... to communicate those concerns," Tillerson added, according to Reuters.
Maduro, however, has said the US government has simply given the green light for a coup in Venezuela.
Images and videos from the demonstration are being shared widely on social media.
Meanwhile, other social media users have shared messages of support to the people of Venezuela as the country remains in the midst of a deepening economic crisis, with record levels of violent crime and poverty, and a failing health care system.