Teenager killed as Venezue­lans march against gov­ern­ment

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - WORLD NEWS - JOSHUA GOOD­MAN and FABI­OLA SANCHEZ

VENEZUELA — A teenager was shot dead as tens of thou­sands of op­po­nents of Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro flooded the streets of Cara­cas on Wed­nes­day in what’s been dubbed the “mother of all marches” against the em­bat­tled so­cial­ist.

Car­los Romero, just three days away from cel­e­brat­ing his 18th birth­day, was walk­ing home from a soc­cer game when he bumped into pro-gov­ern­ment mili­tias stalk­ing a small pocket of protesters, a close fam­ily friend Melvin Sojo, told The As­so­ci­ated Press at the hos­pi­tal where doc­tors tried in vain to save the boy’s life.

Sojo, who grew up in the Romero home, said po­lice and two peo­ple who rushed his brother to the hos­pi­tal told him the boy had been shot in the head by pro-gov­ern­ment groups. Of­fi­cial con­fir­ma­tion of Sojo’s ac­count was not im­me­di­ately avail­able, and the county’s en­ergy min­is­ter said the boy was killed dur­ing an at­tempted as­sault.

He’s the sixth per­son killed since protests be­gan three weeks ago over the Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion to strip the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled congress of its last re­main­ing pow­ers af­ter a year-long power bat­tle.

En­ergy Min­is­ter Luis Motta Dominguez told lines of state work­ers pre­par­ing to join a large coun­ter­march that the re­ports of the boy’s death at the hands of pro­gov­ern­ment groups were false, say­ing he had been killed dur­ing a botched as­sault, and that they would have to use all their po­lit­i­cal weaponry to com­bat the lies of Maduro’s “fas­cist” op­po­nents.

“We’re a peace­ful peo­ple, but we’re also armed,” he said.

Tens of thou­sands of an­gry protesters con­verged from 26 dif­fer­ent points spread across the capital to at­tempt to march down­town to the Om­buds­man’s of­fice. Like a half-dozen times pre­vi­ously, their progress was blocked by lightar­moured ve­hi­cles and a cur­tain of tear gas and rub­ber bul­lets fired by riot po­lice of­fi­cers. In some ar­eas car­a­vans of gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers, some of them armed, cir­cled men­ac­ingly on mo­tor­cy­cles.

The Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion was later re­versed amid over­whelm­ing in­ter­na­tional re­buke and even a rare in­stance of pub­lic dis­sent in the nor­mally dis­ci­plined rul­ing elite. But it had the added ef­fect of en­er­giz­ing Venezuela’s frac­tious op­po­si­tion, which had been strug­gling to chan­nel grow­ing dis­gust with Maduro over wide­spread food short­ages, triple-digit in­fla­tion and ram­pant crime.

With its mo­men­tum re­newed, the op­po­si­tion is now push­ing for Maduro’s re­moval and the re­lease of scores of po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers. The gov­ern­ment last year abruptly post­poned re­gional elec­tions the op­po­si­tion was heav­ily favoured to win and cut off a pe­ti­tion drive to force a ref­er­en­dum seek­ing Maduro’s re­moval be­fore elec­tions late next year.

Op­po­si­tion marchers in­cluded Lil­iana Machuca, who earns about $20 a month hold­ing two jobs teach­ing lit­er­a­ture. Her face was cov­ered in a white, sticky sub­stance to pro­tect her­self from the nox­ious ef­fects of tear gas. Although she doesn’t ex­pect change overnight, she said protest­ing is the only op­tion she has af­ter what she says are abuses com­mit­ted by the gov­ern­ment.

“This is like a chess game and each side is mov­ing what­ever pieces they can . ... We’ll see who tires out first,” she said.

A short block away, a sea of red­shirted gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers marched by calmly, some danc­ing to a salsa band that tried to pro­vide an air of nor­malcy to the oth­er­wise tense po­lit­i­cal stand­off that has par­a­lyzed Venezuela the past few weeks.

Many were state work­ers like Leidy Mar­quez, who was bused in from Tachira state, on the other side of the coun­try, along with co-work­ers at state-run oil gi­ant PDVSA.

“The op­po­si­tion is try­ing to pro­voke a con­flict but they aren’t go­ing to achieve their goal,” said Mar­quez, wear­ing a shirt em­bla­zoned with the eyes of Chavez, a sym­bol of rev­o­lu­tion­ary zeal through­out Venezuela.

The gov­ern­ment has tried to re­cover from the near-daily protests with its own show of force: jail­ing hun­dreds of demon­stra­tors, bar­ring for­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Hen­rique Capriles from run­ning for of­fice and stand­ing by as pro-gov­ern­ment groups vi­o­lently at­tack op­po­si­tion mem­bers of congress.

FER­NANDO LLANO/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A demon­stra­tor walks along a bar­ri­cade set up dur­ing op­po­si­tion protests in Cara­cas, Venezuela, Wed­nes­day. Op­po­nents of Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro called on Venezue­lans to take to the streets on Wed­nes­day for what they dubbed the “mother of all marches” against the em­bat­tled so­cial­ist leader. Gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers are hold­ing their own counter demon­stra­tion.

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