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Death toll rises in Venezuela protests

Soldier and pregnant woman killed in latest bout of violence as top opposition politician loses her seat in Congress.

Last updated: 25 Mar 2014 08:15
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At least 32 people have been killed in weeks of anti-government protests [Reuters]

A National Guard soldier and a pregnant woman have been killed in the latest protest-related violence in Venezuela, authorities said.

The head of Venezuela's congress, meanwhile, said on Monday that a top opposition politician had lost her seat and is no longer immune from prosecution for allegedly fomenting violence in the anti-government protests.

A series of protests against the government of President Nicolas Maduro began five weeks ago, less than a year after Maduro succeeded the late Hugo Chavez. At least 32 people have died in the subsequent violence.

The National Guard member, Sergeant Miguel Antonio Parra, died on Monday during a street demonstration in Merida, said the southwestern city's mayor, Carlos Garcia.

The opposition politician said Parra was shot when he and two other National Guard soldiers were trying to clear the roadways and were confronted by protesters.

The woman who was killed, 28-year-old Adriana Urquiola, died Sunday night in Guaicaipuro, said the mayor of the municipality just outside the capital of Caracas.

Five months pregnant, Urquiola was shot after she left a bus that was stuck in traffic because of a barricade built by anti-government protesters.

She had begun walking toward the road block but did not appear to have been participating in the protest. It was unclear when she was fired upon.

General Padrino Lopez, head of the armed forces' strategic operational command, said Parra and Urquiola were "assassinated at the barricades of terror." Street barriers have become flashpoints for violence during the protests.

Supporters of both sides and members of the security forces have been among those killed in the country's worst unrest in a decade.

The demonstrators are demanding political change and an end to high inflation, shortages of basic foods, and one of the highest rates of violent crime in the world.

Opposition politician dismissed

As the political fallout from the protests continued, Diosado Cabello, who heads the Venezuelan congress, said opposition lawmaker Maria Corina Machado had violated the constitution by addressing the Organization of American States (OAS) last week.

She had addressed the bloc at the invitation of Panama, which ceded its seat at the Washington-based group so she could provide regional diplomats with a firsthand account of the unrest.

Maria Corina Machado says protests are about freedom

"She's no longer a deputy," Cabello was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying. "We're giving instructions that this woman not be allowed back into parliament for this session."

Machado, a 46-year-old engineer elected to Congress in 2010, is frequently branded by Socialist Party supporters as an out-of-touch elitist with an especially wealthy background.

Maduro referred to Machado as "ex-congresswoman" on Saturday, a few days after arresting two opposition mayors for allegedly conspiring with the US to topple his 11-month-old administration.

Machado accuses the the president and his allies of presiding over a dictatorship, and said she would not give up without a fight.

"I know very well what my duties and rights are, and I'll keep fighting and working as a deputy of the National Assembly during these terrible hours through which Venezuela is passing," she told reporters.

She added that Cabello's actions "give us more strength and more reasons to continue the fight." She said she intends to return to Venezuela as soon as possible from Peru, where she is attending a conference.

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