Death toll rises as Venezuela strike enters second day

Caracas (AFP) – Venezuela’s opposition kicked off a second day of a general strike Thursday after a day of street protests left three people dead, in an intensifying showdown over President Nicolas Maduro’s plan to rewrite the nation’s constitution.

Prosecutors said a 30-year-old man was killed Wednesday in the western province of Merida, and a 14-year-old boy was killed in Caracas’ Petare neighborhood, a sprawling slum in the eastern end of the city.

On Thursday they confirmed a 23-year-old man had died the previous day in Merida.

With the approach of controversial elections on Sunday to pick a 545-seat Constituent Assembly to rewrite the constitution, the opposition and the Maduro government skirmished in the streets.

Protesters and government forces faced off late into the night Wednesday, with rounds of tear gas, rubber bullets and homemade bombs arcing through the air.

Barricades made from debris littered eastern Caracas, dotted with signs that read “No more dictatorships!”

Maduro says a new constitution is the only way to bring peace, but the opposition calls the move a power grab by the embattled leftist government.

“What happens if they impose the Constituent Assembly? The crisis will worsen. Where does Maduro want to take the country? To a social explosion?” said Henrique Capriles, an opposition leader.

The latest deaths raised to 106 the number of people killed since April 1.

In Washington, the US Treasury unveiled a list of 13 current and former officials, including the interior minister, senior military brass, the president of the electoral council, and the finance chief of state oil company PDVSA, whose US assets would be frozen.

Maduro called the US punishment “illegal, insolent and unprecedented.”

“Who do these imperialists in the United States think they are? The government of the world?” he said.

But with crippling shortages of basic goods and soaring inflation, protest organizers claimed 92 percent of businesses and workers support the walkout.

– Maduro…

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