Clashes after fifth person dies in Venezuela unrest

Javier TOVAR
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Five people, including a 13-year-old boy have been killed in Venezuela since April 6 in clashes with riot police during a wave of protests against President Nicolas Maduro

More clashes erupted Thursday between police and protesters rallying against the Venezuelan government, after officials said a fifth person died from being shot during earlier unrest.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters in Caracas, AFP reporters saw. It was the latest in a week of clashes over a mounting crisis driven by food shortages.

A 32-year-old man died from a gunshot wound suffered during clashes on Tuesday night in the northwestern town of Cabudare, a spokesman for the public prosecution service who asked not to be named told AFP.

Socialist President Nicolas Maduro is fighting off efforts to oust him as Venezuela, once a booming oil exporting nation, struggles with shortages of food and medicine.

Dozens of people have been injured and more than 100 arrested over the past week in clashes in various cities, according to authorities.

Opposition lawmaker Alfonso Marquina on Twitter identified the latest death as Antonio Gruseny Calderon and called him "another victim of the dictatorship."

- Boy killed -

Marquina and officials earlier said a 13-year-old boy was shot dead in protests on Tuesday in the western city of Barquisimeto.

Marquina blamed that killing on so-called "colectivos," armed supporters of the government whom the opposition accuses of attacking them during demonstrations.

A 36-year-old man was killed the same night in Barquisimeto, prosecutors said.

Two 19-year-old students were shot by police in earlier unrest, one on April 6 and one on April 11, according to authorities.

Also on Thursday, opposition lawmaker Jose Manuel Olivares said police fired tear gas "point-blank" at demonstrators in the state of Vargas.

"If they think they will scare us that way they are wrong. We will stay in the street!" he wrote on Twitter.

- Street clashes -

Thursday's clashes in Caracas erupted when an estimated 1,000 demonstrators kept marching after the scheduled end of a bigger opposition protest and headed for a central district where government institutions are located.

Military police dispersed demonstrators. Some radical members of the rally, their heads covered by hoods, clashed with police.

Another group of around 1,000 people was targeted by police with tear gas and rubber bullets as they marched from the east of the city toward a highway leading downtown.

"I want to see Venezuela free of dictatorship. At peace," said protesting stay-at-home mother Aura Cuaita, 33. "I am not afraid."

In the city of Carora, people lay down in the street to form the letters of the Spanish words for "Down with Maduro."

Pro-government supporters fired buckshot at them, said the opposition lawmaker Marquina.

Police also reportedly broke up a protest in the state of Vargas which borders Caracas.

Yet another march in the west of Caracas took place without violence however, despite passing near the headquarters of security services.

"Why was there no violence? Because they (the authorities) are the violent ones.... We are the guarantors of peace in this country," said opposition congress deputy-speaker Freddy Guevara in a speech.

- International concern -

The next major organized rallies called by opposition leaders are set for Wednesday next week.

That is expected to be the next big showdown in an increasingly fraught crisis that has raised international concerns for Venezuela's stability.

The opposition is demanding the authorities set a date for postponed regional elections.

It is also furious over moves to limit the powers of the legislature and ban senior opposition leader Henrique Capriles from politics.

Those moves have raised international condemnation including from the United States and the European Union.

The US State Department on Thursday urged the Venezuelan security forces to respect people's right to assembly, and urged Maduro to reconsider its decision on banning Capriles.

"It's absolutely vital that Venezuelans have the right to ... elect their representatives in free and fair elections in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution and consistent with international instruments" said department spokesman Mark Toner.

Maduro has resisted opposition efforts to hold a referendum on removing him, vowing to continue the "socialist revolution" launched by his late predecessor Hugo Chavez.

Maduro says the economic crisis is the result of what he calls a US-backed capitalist conspiracy.