A day that began with largely peaceful protests against Venezuela's socialist government took a violent turn as fierce clashes between state security and demonstrators killed at least two people. Thousands hauled folding chairs, beach umbrellas and protest signs onto main roads for a 12-hour "sit-in against the dictatorship," the latest in a month and a half of street demonstrations that have resulted in dozens of deaths. The protest in Caracas yesterday against President Nicolas Maduro was largely peaceful, but outside the capital demonstrators clashed with police and national guardsmen. In the western state of Tachira near Venezuela's border with Colombia, two men were reported dead in separate demonstrations: Luis Alviarez, 18, and Diego Hernandez, 33. Witness videos taken in Tachira showed authorities launching tear gas and demonstrators throwing rocks and setting an armored truck on fire. In another video, a young woman stands on a street, her face covered in blood. Elsewhere, three police officers were shot in the central state of Carabobo, including one left in critical condition after being struck in the head, authorities said. In Lara, a vehicle ran over three protesters. The violence added to a mounting toll of bloodshed and chaos as Venezuela's opposition vows to step up near-daily demonstrations and Maduro shows no intention of conceding to opposition demands. Maduro is vowing to resolve the crisis by convening a special assembly to rewrite the nation's constitution, while the opposition is demanding an immediate presidential election. Polls indicate the great majority of Venezuelans want Maduro gone as violent crime soars and the country falls into economic ruin, with triple-digit inflation and shortages of many basic foods and medical supplies. International pressure on the troubled South American nation is continuing to increase, with European Union foreign ministers calling yesterday for Venezuela to hold elections and warning that "violence and the use of force will not resolve the crisis in the country." The Organization of American States will hold another special session to discuss Venezuela's spiraling political crisis later this month. Venezuela announced in late April that it would be leaving the Washington-based OAS, which seeks to defend democracy throughout the hemisphere, and its representative was not present at yesterday's meeting scheduling the upcoming event. Maduro and top administration leaders contend the OAS is meddling in Venezuela's domestic affairs, infringing on its sovereignty and trying to remove the government from power. The protests were triggered by a government move to nullify the opposition-controlled congress in late March, but the demonstrations have morphed into a general airing of grievances against the unpopular socialist administration. As demonstrations take over Caracas almost daily, normal life has continued, but the atmosphere is suffused with uncertainty.
At fancy cafes, patrons show each other the latest videos of student protesters getting hurt or defaced statues of the late President Hugo Chavez on their phones. Working class people who have to traverse the capital for their jobs have adjusted their schedules to account for traffic shutdowns and take siestas to wait out clashes between protesters and police. Yesterday, demonstrators assembled a giant rosary with balloons hanging from a Caracas highway overpass. A group of flamenco dancers dressed in black performed for the crowds. Others simply sat and held signs declaring their resistance. Former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said the opposition would take its protests "to another stage" as Maduro continues his push to convoke a special assembly tasked with rewriting the nation's constitution. "We are against this fraudulent process," Capriles said on his radio broadcast. Foro Penal, a Venezuelan nonprofit group whose lawyers are representing many of those detained, said there were 35 arrests yesterday. More than three dozen people have been killed, hundreds injured and as many as 2,000 arrested in nearly seven weeks of demonstrations. Those killed are largely young men in their 20s and 30s, protesters or those who happened to be in nearby areas during clashes. Maduro blames the opposition for the violence, claiming its leaders are fomenting unrest to remove him from power. The opposition maintains state security and civilian-armed pro- government groups known as "colectivos" are responsible for the bloodshed. Few arrests have been made and the death toll is fast approaching the violence seen during protests in 2014.
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