Mourners embrace during the wake for Genesis Carmona, who
was shot during a protest earlier this week against Nicolas
Maduro's government in Venezuela. REUTERS/Marco Bello
Venezuelan security forces and demonstrators have faced
off in streets blocked by burning barricades in several cities
in an escalation of protests against President Nicolas Maduro's
socialist government, witnesses say.
At least five people have died since the unrest turned
violent last week, with scores of injuries and arrests.
The demonstrators, mainly students, blame the government for
violent crime, high inflation, product shortages and alleged
repression of opponents.
In affluent east Caracas overnight, security forces fired
teargas and bullets, chasing youths who threw Molotov
cocktails and blocked streets with burning trash, witnesses
Residents in middle-class neighbourhoods banged pots and pans
at windows in a traditional form of protest, and
demonstrators were out again from early on Thursday (local
"I declare myself in civil disobedience," read one banner
held up by demonstrators spread across a Caracas road.
There were similar scenes in the western Andean states of
Tachira and Merida that have been especially volatile since
hardline opposition leaders called supporters onto the
streets in early February demanding Maduro's departure.
In San Cristobal city, which some residents are describing as
a "war zone", many businesses remained shut as students and
police faced off in the streets again on Thursday.
Maduro said "special measures" would be taken to restore
order in Tachira. "We won't let them turn it into a
Benghazi," he said, referring to the violence-wracked Libyan
Tensions have escalated since opposition leader Leopoldo
Lopez, a 42-year-old Harvard-educated economist, turned
himself in to troops this week. He is being held in Caracas'
Ramo Verde jail and faces charges of fomenting the violence.
"Change depends on every one of us. Don't give up!" Lopez's
wife Lilian Tintori said via Twitter on Thursday.
Local TV channels are providing almost no live coverage of
the unrest, so Venezuelans are turning to social media to
swap information and images, though falsified photos are
Both sides rolled out competing evidence of the latest
violence on Thursday, with ruling Socialist Party governors
showing photos and video of charred streets and torched
vehicles, while the opposition posted footage of brutal
behavior which they said was by national guard troops.
Caracas was calmer by lunchtime on Thursday.
There was a little less traffic than normal, and most people
appeared to have returned to work. But the events of the
night were on everyone's lips.
Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli said via his Twitter
account on Thursday that the country was calling in its
ambassador for consultations, adding "We deplore the violent
situation that our brother country is going through."
Maduro, narrowly elected last year to succeed socialist
leader Hugo Chavez after his death from cancer, says Lopez
and others are in league with the U.S. government and want a
The latest direct victim of the unrest was a college student
and local beauty queen, Genesis Carmona, 22, shot in the head
during a demonstration in the central city of Valencia.
In an indirectly linked death, state television channel VTV
said the mother of a well-known young presenter died as she
was being rushed to hospital on Wednesday in Caracas.
VTV said she was suffering from high blood pressure brought
on by a rowdy protest outside her home. It said she then
suffered a heart attack while the ambulance carrying her was
stuck in gridlock due to opposition supporters blocking
Maduro says "fascist groups" are trying to create a crisis to
topple his administration.
"There is an international campaign to justify a foreign
intervention in Venezuela," he said in a combative,
nationally televised address late on Wednesday.
Speaking in Mexico, U.S. President Barack Obama criticized
Maduro's government for arresting protesters and urged it to
focus on addressing the "legitimate grievances" of its
Street protests were the backdrop to a short-lived coup
against Chavez in 2002 before military loyalists and
supporters helped bring him back.
There is no evidence the military, which was the decisive
factor in 2002, may turn on Maduro now.
Detractors call Lopez a dangerous hothead. He has frequently
squabbled with fellow opposition leaders and was involved in
the 2002 coup, even helping arrest a minister.
Though the majority of demonstrators have been peaceful, an
increasingly prominent radical fringe has been attacking
police, blocking roads and vandalizing buildings.
Rights groups say the police response has been excessive, and
some detainees say they were tortured.