At least two people were shot dead in Venezuela and dozens injured as protesters clashed with supporters of President Nicolas Maduro, who accused opposition leaders of trying to incite a coup.
About 50,000 opposition supporters marched through Caracas to protest product shortages and to demand the release of student protesters arrested in provincial towns this month, Amarilys Gott, national director for Voluntad Popular, which helped organize the marches, said by telephone. The government confronted the demonstrators by calling on its allies to take to the streets to celebrate youth week.
Maduro, who is battling the world’s fastest inflation and record scarcity of food and consumer products, said in a national address he would prohibit further protests this week. He said a student was in critical condition and accused opposition leaders of trying to incite a military coup.
“Today they activated a plan with the same characteristics of April 11,” Maduro said, referring to violence at a protest march in 2002 that preceded the brief ouster of former President Hugo Chavez.
Maduro said the government had activated plans to prevent a coup while ordering his education and interior ministers to hold talks with students across the country. He called for peace.
“I’m not going to allow anyone to go out and march this Thursday or Friday,” Maduro said, adding that his government had identified people responsible for the violence. “You need a permit for that, and I’m not going to authorize it. They’re not going to take any plaza in the country.”
National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said on state television that one of the people killed was a member of a pro-government political group from 23 de Enero slum.
“The assassination of our comrade will not go unpunished,” he said. “It’s the work of fascist hordes from the irrational right-wing.”
Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega confirmed the killings in remarks made on state television, saying the uprisings were designed to create chaos in Venezuela. Twenty-three people were injured nationwide, she said.
“The suppression of a peaceful protest shows a clear polarization of the country, which could spill into general nationwide violence,” said Diego Moya-Ocampos, political analyst at IHS Global Insight consultancy who was present at the protests. “The country’s economic decline is beginning to spill into the general deterioration of democratic institutions.”
Demonstrations continued into the night as riot police and the National Guard confronted dispersed groups of bare-chested youths with teargas in the affluent Chacao district of eastern Caracas.
Protesters shut down the main artery of Chacao and set fire to tires. The National Guard arrived around 6 p.m. local time and started deploying tear gas.
Residents of several parts of the city were heard banging pots and pans -- a form of protest in Latin America known as a “cacerolazo.”
Violence broke out at the end of the opposition march near the Prosecutor General’s office in Caracas, according to Voluntad Popular. Its leader, Leopoldo Lopez, called for peaceful protests.
Police were seen using water cannons to disperse protesters in Chacao at about 8 p.m.
“What makes these protests of enormous concern are the two people killed and several dozen injured,” Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “The conditions on all fronts are deteriorating rapidly. Anything can happen.”
Venezuela’s central bank said Feb. 11 that the scarcity index reached 28 percent in January, the highest since it created the measure in 2005, meaning that more than one in four basic goods was out of stock at any given time.
Consumer prices rose 3.3 percent last month, compared to a 3.6 percent median estimate of seven analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Prices rose 56.3 percent from a year earlier, the central bank said.
Maduro, a former bus driver, has blamed inflation and shortages on an “economic war” waged by the “parasitic bourgeoisie.”
The South American country’s benchmark 9.25 percent dollar bond due in 2027 rose 0.58 cent to 66.62 cents on the dollar today in New York. The yield on the bond fell 14 basis points to 15.10 percent.
“The prospect of the militarization of a political conflict will scare investors already worried by the increasingly dire economic situation,” Russ Dallen, the Miami-based head trader at Caracas Capital Markets, said today in an e-mailed response to questions.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andre Soliani at firstname.lastname@example.org