Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela protests: Three killed in fresh unrest

Three people have died in fresh protests in Venezuela, this time in the central city of Valencia.

A policeman and two other men were shot dead in separate incidents.

In Caracas, Venezuelan government supporters and opposition demonstrators took to the streets to hold rival marches.

The marches mark one month since the current protest movement began - on 12 February. Twenty-five people are now known to have died.

The opposition mayor of Valencia, Miguel Cocchiola, said that the city had seen several incidents of violence during the day.

A 42-year old man, Guillermo Sanchez, was painting his house when he was shot in the head by pro-government militias passing on motorbikes, said Mr Cocchiola.

Student Jesus Enrique Acosta, 20, was also killed in Valencia. Mr Cocchiola said Mr Acosta was also shot dead by the government groups, known as "colectivos".

The other victim was army captain Ernesto Bravo Bracho. The government said he was killed by "criminal terrorists".

Meanwhile, opposition demonstrators marched through the streets of eastern Caracas - an anti-government stronghold - denouncing police brutality and the economic crisis.

They called for the release of dozens of jailed activists.

At the end of the protests, activists threw stones and petrol bombs at the police, who responded with tear gas. Several people were injured.

There were demonstrations in several other Venezuelan cities.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Government supporters say life has improved since the late president Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999
Image copyright AP
Image caption The anti-government protest in eastern Caracas ended in clashes with Venezuelan police

Elsewhere in the capital, thousands of government supporters joined President Nicolas Maduro in a "march for peace".

Mr Maduro said this week that he had managed to defeat a plot to bring down his government. saying a right-wing plot had been neutralised.

"Before Chavez no-one had anything we have now: access to public health, education and food," government supporter Marcos Alcayo told Reuters at the march.

Hugo Chavez died of cancer a year ago after more than 14 years in office.

A new presidential election was held last April. Mr Chavez's preferred successor, Mr Maduro, defeated opposition leader Henrique Capriles by a narrow margin.

One of the protest leaders, opposition legislator Maria Corina Machado, told the BBC's James Menendez that Venezuela was increasingly united behind the idea of regime change.

"A change of government as soon as possible: that is what we are proposing, very clearly," said Ms Corina.

But she denied that replacing a democratically elected government amounted to a coup: "We want to go forward, but in the umbrella of our constitution and by pacific means."

Mr Maduro says right-wing sectors in the United States, Venezuela and other countries in Latin America are behind a coup plot.

Last week Venezuela expelled the Panamanian ambassador and three other diplomats after accusing them of conspiring to bring down his government.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Maduro's term ends in January 2019

The protests started in the western states of Merida and Tachira at the beginning of February, with demonstrators asking for more security in the region.

Dozens of demonstrators were arrested.

Three people were shot dead in Caracas in renewed marches on 12 February demanding that students and other detained activists be freed.

The government and the opposition have traded accusations over the killings. Daily protests and frequent pro-government demonstrations have been held ever since.