CARACAS, (Reuters) – Venezuela’s state prosecutor’s office said yesterday a 20-year old man had been fatally shot in the neck on Monday night while he was at a protest in the city of Valencia, the second confirmed death in anti-government unrest in the last week.
Opposition lawmakers said Daniel Queliz was killed by security forces while he was protesting. The prosecutor’s office said in a statement it was investigating the incident.
His death comes on the heels of the killing of 19-year-old Jairo Ortiz on the outskirts of Caracas on Thursday in the area of an opposition protest. A police officer has been arrested.
Lawmakers also said that an elderly woman asphyxiated to death in Caracas after tear gas entered her apartment during Monday’s protests. Reuters was not able to confirm the report.
The deaths come as demonstrations against unpopular leftist President Nicolas Maduro escalate amid a grueling economic crisis and what critics say is his transformation into a dictator.
Maduro counters that under a veneer of pacifism, the opposition is actually encouraging violent protests in a bid to topple his government.
Venezuelans have been suffering food and medicine shortages for months, leading many to skip meals or go without crucial treatment.
But after years of protesting with little results, street action had ebbed until a Supreme Court decision in late March to assume the functions of the opposition-led congress sparked outcry.
The court quickly overturned the most controversial part of its decision but the move triggered condemnation at home and abroad. News that the national comptroller on Friday had banned high-profile opposition leaders Henrique Capriles from office for 15 years also drew broad criticism.
Around a dozen opposition legislators on Tuesday held another surprise protest at the headquarters of the National Guard to decry excessive use of force – including tear gas dropped from a helicopter and fired into a Caracas clinic.
“Here we are… to demand elections now, an end to repression, respect for the constitution, a reversal of the coup, so that Venezuela can be in peace and we can all progress,” said opposition lawmaker Tomas Guanipa, brandishing a blue constitution in his hand. State officials via social media have shown images and videos of demonstrators vandalizing public property and throwing rocks at police.
“Who is taking responsibility for damage to public property and persons?” said Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino on Twitter, posting pictures of demonstrators kicking police officers and breaking into an office of the Supreme Court. “What is their agenda? Terrorism, chaos, death?”
Most of the protesters are peaceful and say street action is their only option after authorities last year blocked a recall referendum to remove Maduro. Local elections, due last year, have yet to be called.