Venezuela's opposition vowed to stage its biggest protests so far today in its drive for elections to remove President Nicolas Maduro from power in a deadly political crisis. Clashes at street demos have left 47 people dead since the protests erupted on April 1, according to prosecutors, who yesterday updated an earlier toll of 43. "On day 50 of the resistance we will make the biggest show of strength so far in this period," said Juan Andres Mejia, one of a group of lawmakers leading the demonstrations, of today's planned demonstrations. He told a news conference that the new rallies aim "to show those who think they have made us retreat that we are more active than ever." Protests erupted across the country in anger at Maduro's handling of an economic and political crisis in the country, which has vast oil reserves. In near-daily clashes, military police with armored trucks have fired tear gas and water cannons to break up the crowds. Masked youths have responded by hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails. The government and the opposition have accused each other of sending armed groups to sow violence in the protests. Many of those reported killed have been shot dead, according to the public prosecution service. Protesters blame Maduro for shortages of food and medicine and accuse him of trying to cling to power. Elected in 2013, Maduro has accused the opposition of plotting a coup against him with US backing.
He has said general elections will be held next year as scheduled but not before. Private opinion surveys indicate Maduro is highly unpopular, but he retains the backing of the military and control of most state institutions. His Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said Wednesday the government was sending troops to the western region of Tachira to quell violence there. The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said the crisis risked escalating into a civil conflict. Diplomatic tensions rose on Thursday when the US Treasury slapped sanctions on eight members of Venezuela's Supreme Court, accusing them of "usurping" legislative powers in Maduro's support. Venezuela's Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said the sanctions were proof the US was playing a role in "the destabilization of Venezuela.