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Venezuelan protests claim more lives

Three killed in demonstrations, raising total to at least 30, as thousands continue to march against President Maduro.

Last updated: 23 Mar 2014 05:06
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Three more people were reported killed in Venezuela's political unrest as both supporters and opponents of the government took to the streets in new shows of force. 

The deaths were reported on Saturday in Valencia and San Cristobal, two cities which have been centres of unrest directed towards the government of the socialist president, Nicolas Maduro.

A man identified as Jesus Orlando Labrador died from a gunshot wound in the chest Saturday in the southwestern city of Merida. Argenis Hernandez died on Saturday after being shot in the stomach while manning a barricade in Valencia. Wilfredo Rey, a bus driver, was killed during clashes between pro and anti-government supporters in San Cristobal. 

The mayor of San Cristobal, Daniel Ceballos, a critic of the president, was arrested last week on charges of instigating violence.

At least 30 people have been killed during weeks of clashes between protesters and security forces who are sometimes joined by motorcycle-riding civilians loyal to Maduro. Hundreds more have been wounded and arrested.

Despite escalating violence, tens of thousands of anti-government activists marched peacefully in Caracas and other cities on Saturday to demand an end to the use of force against opponents of Maduro. 

Opposition leader says protests are about freedom

Security forces fired tear gas and water cannons to drive off a few dozen students who tried to block a Caracas highway after most protesters went home on Saturday, but no injuries were reported.

Maduro also addressed a small rally called by loyalist students to complain about arson attacks that have kept several universities shut for weeks.

The president has denounced the anti-government protests, saying they are part of a US-backed, fascist conspiracy to stir up violence and remove him from power.

Leopoldo Lopez, a leading voice of the opposition, has been charged with conspiracy and arson tied to the country's first deadly uprisings. Several mayors have also been arrested, accused of promoting violent protests in their cities.

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