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Venezuela death toll rises as foes protest Maduro's power shakeup
15:03, 04 May 2017, 1035
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AKIPRESS.COM - Venezuelan security forces battled protesters who lit fires and hurled stones on Wednesday in rage at President Nicolas Maduro's decree to create an alternative congress, with another fatality taking the death toll to 34 during a month of unrest, Reuters reported.

In a familiar pattern in protests against the socialist government, thousands of opposition supporters rallied peacefully at first before being blocked, sparking fights around the city between masked youths and soldiers.

One 17-year-old protester died in the melee from an object that hit him in the neck, said Gerardo Blyde, a district mayor for the opposition.

"A young man with all his life ahead. He simply fought for a better country," Blyde said on Twitter of the case which the Venezuelan state prosecutor's office said it would investigate.

More than 200 people were injured as fights raged in various parts of the capital, Blyde and another opposition mayor said.

Marchers tried to reach the National Assembly legislature, where the opposition has a majority, to protest Maduro's creation of an alternative "popular" congress viewed by foes as a ruse to dodge free elections and cling to power.

They were pushed back by National Guard troops with teargas, armored vehicles and riot shields on the Francisco Fajardo highway, which runs through the middle of the city.

"They are mobilized as if this was a war," said opposition leader Henrique Capriles, broadcasting from the scene via the Periscope app favored by protest leaders.

On the opposition side, youths donned gas masks and bandanas, throwing Molotov cocktails and using slingshots to fire stones. They protected themselves with homemade shields, painted in bright colors and decorated with slogans like "Liberty!" and "Murderer Maduro!"

Local media published footage showing two protesters being knocked over by a National Guard vehicle. Both survived.

With demonstrators erecting barricades and police helicopters whirring overhead, at least three opposition lawmakers were injured, activists said. "An injury by the dictatorship is a badge of honor," tweeted First Justice legislator Freddy Guevara, who said he was hit by a tear gas canister.

Opposition leaders have vowed to stay in the streets after Maduro's announcement on Monday that he was creating the "constituent assembly" which is empowered to rewrite the constitution.

"It's a tool to avoid free elections. We've been marching 18 years but this is our last card. It's all or nothing," said pensioner Miren Bilbao, 66, with friends and family on the Francisco Fajardo highway.

While the opposition was keeping up momentum, it was unclear how the protests could achieve their aims after demonstrations in 2014 failed to dislodge Maduro. Back then, however, the opposition was splintered, protests failed to spread to poor areas and the economy was in better shape.


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