Four dead in clashes ahead of Venezuela protests

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Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro

CARACAS, Venezuela (AFP) — At least four people have died following overnight clashes ahead of Wednesday’s rival protests in Venezuela by supporters and opponents of President Nicolas Maduro, police and a non-governmental organization said.

A 16-year-old was among the dead, having suffered “a firearm injury during a demonstration” in the capital Caracas, the Social Conflict Observatory said.

Police said the other three deaths occurred during looting in Bolivar City in the southeastern Bolivar State that borders Brazil.

A statue of iconic socialist revolutionary leader Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s predecessor, was torched by dozens of protesters in the town of San Felix, Bolivar State.

Photos and videos shared on social media showed the statue, which was vandalized last year, engulfed in flames.

Tensions have been running high in the country since Monday when a group of soldiers took over a command post in the north of the capital and rose up against Maduro, publishing a video calling on people to come out into the streets in support.

The mutineers were quickly overpowered by police and the armed forces, with 27 people arrested.

But the brazen move sparked at least 30 small protests around Caracas, according to the Social Conflict Observatory, with the police firing tear gas to disperse demonstrators.

The opposition-controlled parliament had announced Wednesday’s protest earlier this month as the legislature’s president Juan Guaido aims to rally support behind his attempt to chase Maduro from power and set up a transitional government ahead of new elections.

The government responded by announcing its own pro-Maduro demonstration on what is a hugely significant date in Venezuela since it was on January 23, 1958 that the dictatorship of Marcos Perez Jimenez fell.

Opposition to Maduro’s rule has been stepped up since the former bus driver was sworn in for a second term of office two weeks ago.

The election he won in May was boycotted by the opposition and branded a fraud by the European Union, United States and numerous Latin American countries.

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