Venezuela death toll rises to 34 as troops and protesters clash

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CARACAS-

Three Venezuelans died from gunshot wounds during protests against socialist President Nicolas Maduro, witnesses and local media said on Saturday, pushing the death toll from almost two months of anti-government demonstrations to 34.

Troops briefly clashed with a small group of protesters who attempted to block a highway in an upscale neighborhood of Caracas after thousands of opposition sympathizers marched to demand the release of students imprisoned during the unrest.

Demonstrators complaining of soaring prices and product shortages have vowed to remain in the streets until Maduro resigns, although there are few signs that the country’s worst turmoil in a decade will force him from office.

Argenis Hernandez, 26, was shot in the abdomen as he was demonstrating near a barricade in the central city of Valencia and died early on Saturday in a nearby hospital, according to local media reports.
A motorcyclist attempted to cross the barricade and opened fire on demonstrators when they would not let him through, wounding Hernandez.

Bus driver Wilfredo Rey, 31, died on Friday night after being shot in the head during a confrontation between demonstrators and hooded gunmen in the western city of San Cristobal, according to local residents.

Rey had not been involved in the protests, they said.

Forty-year-old Jesus Labrador was hit by a bullet on Saturday in the Andean city of Merida during a shoot-out between armed protesters burning tires and hooded gunmen on motorcycles, according to a resident of the area.

Labrador died minutes after arriving at the hospital. Four others suffered bullet wounds in the incident.

The protests began in February with sporadic demonstrations by university students. They intensified after three people were killed following a February 12 rally in downtown Caracas.

Jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez called on Maduro to resign in a letter read by his wife at a rally.

“Maduro, if you resign, you will open a path toward peace for Venezuelans,” wrote Lopez, who was jailed last month on charges including instigating violence after helping turn the protests into a national movement. “The solution is in your hands.”

A group of demonstrators later gathered near Plaza Altamira, which has been a hot spot of opposition protests, but the National Guard dispersed them with tear gas.

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