Venezuela protest deaths hit 113

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - FABIOLA SANCHEZ

CARA­CAS, Venezuela — The death toll from nearly four months of anti-govern­ment protests climbed Fri­day to at least 113 as Venezuela’s op­po­si­tion called on back­ers to defy a protest ban ahead of a vote to be­gin a re­write of the con­sti­tu­tion.

Res­i­dents of the cap­i­tal, Cara­cas, lined up for hours at gro­cery stores and banks to stock­pile food and cash be­fore what many ex­pected would be a chaotic week­end.

Pro­test­ers say the elec­tion of a con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly on Sun­day will al­low Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro to elim­i­nate checks and bal­ances and re­place Venezuela’s demo­cratic sys­tem with an au­thor­i­tar­ian, sin­gle- party govern­ment.

Maduro has de­ployed the mil­i­tary and po­lice to clear block­ades and pro­tect a vote he says is meant to end a power strug­gle with the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled Na­tional As­sem­bly, which he blames for the spi­ral­ing po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and so­cial cri­sis.

The op­po­si­tion is boy­cotting the vote and asked back­ers to block streets start­ing Fri­day af­ter­noon de­spite the of­fi­cial protest ban.

Venezuela has seen near- daily protests since April against govern­ment at­tempts to un­der­mine the op­po­si­tion while the coun­try has seen wide­spread short­ages of food, medicines and other es­sen­tials.

Late Thurs­day, the pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice re­leased a list of 109 dead from vi­o­lence re­lated to demon­stra­tions and street block­ades across the coun­try since the protests be­gan.

It later re­ported at least five more deaths via Twit­ter. They in­cluded a po­lice of­fi­cer slain in the town of Ejido in the western state of Merida, which has been the scene of vi­o­lent clashes in re­cent days.

The pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice said one death oc­curred in an “ir­reg­u­lar sit­u­a­tion,” leav­ing un­clear whether it was re­lated to the protests.

About 13,000 trav­el­ers were trapped in Cara­cas af­ter Colom­bian air­line Avianca can­celed ser­vice to and from Venezuela. Avianca of­fi­cials said they were char­ter­ing planes to fly stranded pas­sen­gers out of Venezuela.

Mean­while, the Colom­bian govern­ment said Fri­day that it will grant tem­po­rary le­gal sta­tus to more than 150,000 Venezue­lans who en­tered the coun­try legally and over­stayed their visas.

In re­cent years Colom­bia has re­ceived hun­dreds of thou­sands of Venezue­lan mi­grants, many of them with Colom­bian ori­gins, flee­ing the short­ages, triple-digit in­fla­tion and a homi­cide rate that is among the world’s high­est.

Delta, one of the last air­lines still serv­ing Venezuela, said on Twit­ter that it could not guar­an­tee ser­vice af­ter Septem­ber. The air­line de­clined fur­ther com­ment.

On Thurs­day, the U. S. State Depart­ment said it was or­der­ing rel­a­tives of Amer­i­can diplo­mats to leave Cara­cas, al­low­ing U.S. govern­ment work­ers to leave the em­bassy there and lim­it­ing the move­ment of those who stay.

An up­dated travel warn­ing urged U.S. cit­i­zens not to travel to Venezuela due to so­cial un­rest and vi­o­lence.

AP/ARI­ANA CUBILLOS

Anti-govern­ment demon­stra­tors light a fire bomb Fri­day dur­ing clashes with Na­tional Guards in Cara­cas, Venezuela, two days be­fore the vote to be­gin the rewrit­ing of Venezuela’s con­sti­tu­tion.

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