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Two people killed during anti-government protests in Venezuela

21 April 2017

Anti-government protesters have described it as Venezuela's "second independence day" and pictures showing campaigners wading through rivers in Caracas have emerged on social media.

Opponents of President Nicolás Maduro called on Venezuelans to take to the streets to march against the embattled socialist leader. Crowds swelled to hundreds of thousands, including Maduro supporters who held a counter-demonstration in the capital at the urging of the president. The government last year abruptly postponed regional elections the opposition was heavily favored to win and cut off a petition drive to force a referendum seeking Maduro's removal before elections late next year.

The teenager, later identified as Carlos Moreno, died while undergoing surgery, a hospital representative told CNN.

"There was an exchange of words, the situation got complicated and, well, they shot the guy", said Arhiam Cano, a graphic designer who witnessed the event, in a telephone interview.

Waving the country's red yellow and blue flags and shouting "No more dictatorship" and "Maduro out", tens of thousands of protesters converged from 26 different points spread across Caracas to attempt to march downtown to the Ombudsman's office.

In the past, the groups known as collectives have operated like shock troops firing on protesters as security forces stand by. In that reference, president Maduro added that together "with the political work" by the Government, the people should also remain alert in order to respond to the unpatriotic strategies and actions by the right and the interference encouraged from the Organization of American States.

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Maduro said he was expanding civilian militias created by his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez and giving each member a gun.

One protester, Helma Mendoza, said she joined "the mother of all marches", organized by leaders of the center-right political opposition, because of Venezuela's tattered economy and the resulting strain on her family and the broader society.

"Today there were millions of us and tomorrow even more of us have to come out". We are many more.

Maduro opponents were left seething after Venezuela's supreme court tried to strip the opposition-controlled legislature of its powers last month, a decision judges mostly reversed the following day.

"I participate in these protests, out of a sense of responsibility for being Venezuelan".

Since then, people have been protesting for the removal of the Supreme Court Justices, the reinstatement of gubernatorial and local elections, the release of the political prisoners and ultimately, Maduro's resignation.

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Although she doesn't expect change overnight, she said protesting is the only option she has after what she says are abuses committed by the government.

The opposition has called for another protest today, raising the possibility of prolonged disruption in Venezuela.

Socialist officials dismissed the opposition marches as efforts to destabilise the government, pointing to barricades of burning trash mounted by protesters and vandalism of public property.

"We were on a motorbike and they were following us, shooting", her boyfriend told Reuters.

Late Tuesday, on national television, Maduro reasserted his earlier claims that the United States is behind opposition marches, saying the U.S. State Department had given the green light for a coup attempt.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said via Twitter on Wednesday that he had directed his country's exterior ministry to ask the UN Secretary General to address what he called the "worrying militarization of Venezuelan society". As has become common in recent weeks on protest days, Venezuelan authorities will close 27 metro stations and likely set up checkpoints to slow entry to the city.

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