December 21, 2014
Venezuela protests flare anew, death toll rises
Anti-government demonstrators set up barricades and started fires in Venezuela's capital today despite calls from within the opposition to rein in protests in which at least 14 people have died in the OPEC nation.
Traffic slowed to a crawl around Caracas, and many people stayed at home, as protesters burned trash and piled debris along main avenues a day after opposition leader Henrique Capriles called on them to keep demonstrations peaceful.
"We know we're bothering people but we have to wake up Venezuela!" student Pablo Herrera, 23, said next to a barricade in the affluent Los Palos Grandes district of Caracas.
Authorities in the convulsed border state of Tachira confirmed the latest death from the unrest: a man hit by a stray bullet watching a protest from the balcony of his apartment.
The most sustained unrest in Venezuela for a decade is the biggest challenge to President Nicolas Maduro's 10-month-old government, though there is no sign it will topple him nor affect oil shipments from Latin America's biggest exporter.
The government says 529 people have been charged over the unrest, with most given warnings but 45 kept behind bars. About 150 people have been injured, authorities say.
Capriles, 41, spurned an invitation to meet Maduro in the afternoon as part of a gathering of mayors and governors that some had hoped would open up communications between both sides.
"This is a dying government ... I'm not going to be like the orchestra on the Titanic," he told reporters. "Miraflores (presidential palace) is not the place to talk about peace, it's the center of operations for abuses of human rights."
Capriles and other opposition figureheads are demanding that the government release imprisoned protest leader Leopoldo Lopez and about a dozen jailed student demonstrators.
They also want Maduro to disarm pro-government gangs and address national issues ranging from crime to shortages of basic goods. Hardline student protesters, though, are demanding that Maduro step down, less than a year into his term.
"If there's one thing these violent protests have done, it's unite 'Chavismo'," Maduro told state television, using the term for government supporters coined during the 14-year rule of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.
The president, a 51-year-old former union activist who has made preserving Chavez's legacy the centerpiece of his rule, accuses opponents of planning a coup backed by Washington.