VENEUELA’S violent anti-government protests have claimed the lives of three more people, national media reported yesterday, bringing the number of deaths in recent weeks to 24.
Protests reached their fourth week on Monday with mass sit-ins on major roads.
They were met by large counter-demonstrations in favour of President Nicolas Maduro’s United Socialist Party (PSUV).
In Merida state, 42-year-old civil servant Jesus Sulbaran was fatally shot in the neck at a pro-government rally and University of the Andes student Daniel Infante died after sustaining injuries to the head.
National ombudsman Tarek Saab confirmed the two deaths in Merida, where four were also injured.
PSUV Merida Governor Alexis Ramirez claimed all the victims were killed by opposition militants.
Mr Saab also reported that 54-year-old Renzo Rodriguez was shot dead during a protest in the western Barinas state, where two more were injured.
Democratic Unity Roundtable (Mud) opposition coalition MP Maribel Guedez claimed government-linked armed groups fired the shots.
The main opposition march to the Francisco Fajardo road in the capital Caracas also turned violent as about 200 Mud militants collected stones to throw, vandalised road barriers and broke into a builders’ yard to steal materials for roadblocks.
They also seized barrels of petrol and tyres, which they spread across the road in a flaming barricade.
Mud MP Rafael Guzman turned a blind eye, saying: “Violence? What violence? The only violence I see is that of the police.”
The opposition has called mass protests to demand an early presidential election — despite failing to gain support for a recall referendum last year.
It also wants the release of Popular Will party leader Leopoldo Lopez, jailed two years ago for inciting the last outbreak of street violence in 2014.
Those protests, dubbed the guarimba, left 43 dead and more than 800 injured.
Mr Maduro has urged Mud to return to talks it walked out of in January which were mediated by the Vatican, regional bloc Unasur and former leaders of the Dominican Republic, Panama and Spain.