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20 April 2017, 05:38 | Kelvin Horton
Venezuela's opposition called for renewed nationwide protests on Thursday to pressure the government of President Nicolas Maduro to hold elections and improve a collapsing economy, a day after three people were killed in similar demonstrations. The marchers were forced back by lines of soldiers and police deployed to contain what the opposition has vowed will be the "mother of all protests".
The current wave of marches, the most sustained protests against Maduro since 2014, has sparked regular melees in which youths and National Guard troops exchange volleys of rocks and tear gas.
Carlos Romero, just three days away from his 18th birthday, was walking to play soccer with friends when he bumped into pro-government militias stalking a pocket of protesters, family spokesman Melvin Sojo told The Associated Press, based on the accounts of two people who rushed Romero to the hospital after he was hit by gunfire. Journalists waited outside the clinic for reports on his condition. He warned supporters that they would have to use all their political tools to keep at bay what he said were the "fascist" opponents of the socialist administration.
Analysts say there is less likelihood of a coup against Maduro because Chavez launched a broad purge of the armed forces following his brief ouster.
Tens of thousands of angry protesters took to the streets in 26 different points in attempt to march to the Ombudsman's office.
The march followed a fortnight of violent protests triggered by a Supreme Court decision in March to assume the powers of the opposition-led Congress - which it quickly reversed under global pressure.
The Supreme Court's decision was later reversed amid overwhelming global rebuke and even a rare instance of public dissent in the normally disciplined ruling elite. Mr Maduro accused the opposition of attacking police.
With its momentum renewed, the opposition is now pushing for Maduro's removal and the release of scores of political prisoners.
The government has delayed local and state elections and blocked attempts by the Opposition to oust the President through a referendum.
On the capital's northwest side, a 17-year-old man was shot in the head and badly wounded by motorcycle-riding gunmen who also threw tear gas canisters into a crowd of protesters, witnesses told AFP. 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.
Speaking at a pro-government rally in the capital, Caracas, on Wednesday, Maduro called opposition leader Julio Borges a "coward", as quoted by The Washington Post, but also said that all the sectors of the opposition who were willing to engage in dialogue were invited to do so.
Even while accusing the USA of trying to overthrow him, Maduro has been careful not to antagonize Trump.
"Allowing free and democratic elections and respecting the constitution, to put a stop to this coup d'état that's being staged and controlled by Maduro together with the Supreme Court", Henrique Capriles, a leading figure of the opposition, tells the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
"We are living in a dictatorship, we are living in oppression", opposition protester Karina Ivone said.
Foreign governments are also warning about the increasingly bellicose rhetoric coming from the government.
But the government has shown little interest in backing down.
After nearly three weeks of anti-government protests on the streets of Venezuela and coupled with Wednesdays figure, the current death toll has increased to eight people, including one police officer, and nearly one thousand people have been arrested. The opposition blames the deaths on security forces and alleged paramilitary groups.
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