Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Two killed amid massive protests against Venezuelan government

Death toll rises to 7 since marches began 3 weeks ago in opposition of Maduro

- By Joshua Goodman and Fabiola Sanchez

CARACAS, Venezuela — Two people were shot dead as opponents of President Nicolas Maduro flooded the streets of Caracas and other Venezuelan cities Wednesday, battling security forces in what’s been dubbed the “mother of all marches” against the embattled socialist leader.

Carlos Romero, just three days away from his 18th birthday, was walking to play soccer with friends when he bumped into progovernm­ent militias stalking a pocket of protesters, family spokesman Melvin Sojo told The Associated Press, based on the accounts of two people who rushed Carlos to a hospital after he was hit by gunfire.

“This was supposed to be a happy moment but instead I came home to see my brother die,” said Sojo, who grew up in the Romero home and returned Tuesday from Ecuador, where he had been living the past year.

There was no immediate confirmati­on that the militias shot the boy, and some government officials cast doubt on the account, saying Carlos was killed during an attempted assault.

In the western city of San Cristobal, a 23-year-old woman identified as Paola Ramirez was shot dead by similar groups, according to Mayor Patricia Gutierrez, who said the groups circled demonstrat­ors on motorcycle­s as they were heading home from the demonstrat­ion.

The two killings bring to seven the death toll since protests began three weeks ago over the Supreme Court’s decision to strip the opposition-controlled congress of its last remaining powers, a move that was later reversed but not before enraging the opposition and causing a storm of internatio­nal criticism. The charges of increasing government authoritar­ianism come against the backdrop of an ever-deepening economic crisis.

Despite Venezuela’s economic woes, it was revealed Wednesday that Mr. Maduro’s socialist administra­tion still managed to make a $500,000 donation to U.S. President Donald Trump’s inaugurati­on, records released Wednesday show.

Inaugural committee records filed with the U.S. Federal Election Commission show Citgo Petroleum, a U.S. affiliate of Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA, was one of the biggest corporate donors to events surroundin­g the swearing-in ceremony.

Even while accusing the U.S. of trying to overthrow him, Mr. Maduro has been careful not to antagonize the new U.S. president. But the Trump administra­tion has recently stepped up criticism of Venezuela’s government. In February, Mr. Trump met with the wife of a jailed opposition leader at the White House and on Tuesday the U.S. State Department issued a statement decrying violence against protesters.

In Caracas on Wednesday, tens of thousands of angry protesters converged from 26 different points round the capital to attempt to march downtown to the Ombudsman’s office. Like a half-dozen times previously, their progress was blocked by a curtain of tear gas and rubber bullets fired by riot police officers.

As night fell, a few thousand people were still gathered in a plaza in wealthy eastern Caracas as residents in nearby buildings banged pots and pans in a show of support.

A group of youths with their faces covered tore down street signs and billboards for makeshift barricades. They then launched rocks and Molotov cocktails against lines of police and national guardsmen who responded with tear gas in catand-mouse skirmishes likely to last deep into the night.

At one point, dozens of protesters amassed on a highway fled a cloud of eyesearing tear gas by sliding down a long concrete causeway and into the Guaire River that traverses Caracas.

 ?? Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images ?? Thousands of demonstrat­ors rally Wednesday against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas.
Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images Thousands of demonstrat­ors rally Wednesday against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas.

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