Tens of thousands turn out to prevent coup against President Maduro
THREE people were killed during anti-government protests in Venezuela on Wednesday with opposition leaders calling for more marches.
In separate incidents, two bystanders and a National Guard soldier policing the demonstrations were shot dead.
Carlos Moreno, an 18-year-old student, was hit in the head by a bullet as opposition forces clashed with counter-demonstrators.
Mr Moreno reportedly died in hospital. Witnesses and members of the opposition claim government supporters fired the fatal shot.
In San Cristobal in Tachira state on the Colombian border, 24-year-old Paola Ramirez was shot dead by a gunman on a motorcycle in the town’s San Carlos square — where she took refuge from rioting four blocks away.
National ombudsman Tarek Saab said Sergeant San Clemente Barrios was killed by a sniper in the Los Salias suburb of Caracas in Miranda state. PSUV vice-chairman Diosdado Cabello confirmed his death on live TV.
Mass protests over the past three weeks have resulted in the deaths of eight people as the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (Mud) coalition vie for an early presidential election.
Tens of thousands of pro-government supporters also turned out in the capital Caracas to cheer President Nicolas Maduro.
“Today the coup plotters tried to take power again and we have defeated them,” Mr Maduro told the crowds.
“They once again took to the streets to break laws, to burn things, to stir violence.”
The opposition has also demanded the release of far-right Popular Will (VP) party leader Leopoldo Lopez, jailed in 2015 for inciting the last round of deadly putschist riots in 2014 that left 43 dead.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles called for protests to continue until their demands were met.
Government officials fear that the recent violence is a repeat of the April 11 2002 massacre of opposition protesters in the capital by unidentified snipers — which served as a pretext for the short-lived coup against late president Hugo Chavez.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he was “concerned” Mr Maduro’s government was “violating its own constitution and not allowing the opposition to … organise in a way that expresses the views of the Venezuelan people.”
But Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez mocked him in a tweet, saying: “The world and Venezuela are deeply concerned by the recent bombings launched by the US on Syria and Afghanistan.”