Death toll in Venezuelan protests reaches nine

News 21 Apr 2017

left right Mourners attend the wake of Paola Ramirez, a student who died during a protest, in San Cristobal, Venezuela, April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez 1/5 left right Police fire tear gas toward opposition supporters during clashes while rallying against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 2/5 left right Mourners look at the coffin of Paola Ramirez, a student who died during a protest, in her wake in San Cristobal, Venezuela April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez 3/5 left right Demonstrators run away from tear gas during clashes with police while rallying against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Veron 4/5 left right A demonstrator throws a molotov cocktail during clashes with riot police while rallying against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Veron 5/5

CARACAS A man was killed in a protest in the Venezuelan capital on Thursday night, an official said on Friday, marking the ninth death in a wave of sometimes violent demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro's government.

Melvin Guaitan died of a bullet wound in the slum of Petare, municipal mayor Carlos Ocariz said via Twitter. Local media reported looting and street clashes with security forces in poor areas of Caracas late on Thursday and early Friday.

"We demand that those responsible for this incident are investigated and punished," wrote Ocariz, without providing additional details.

Opposition leaders have promised to keep up their protests, demanding that Maduro's government call regional elections that have been delayed since last year, free almost 100 jailed opposition activists and respect the autonomy of the opposition-led Congress.

They are calling for community-level protests across the country on Friday, a white-clad "silent" march in Caracas on Saturday to commemorate those killed in the unrest, and a nationwide "sit-in" blocking Venezuela's main roads on Monday.

Maduro's government is so far resisting the pressure of the most serious protests in three years. Ruling Socialist Party leaders describe the protesters as violent hoodlums who are damaging public property and disrupting public order to overthrow the government with the support of ideological adversaries in Washington.

"This wounded and failed opposition is trying to generate chaos in key areas of the city and convince the world that we're in some sort of civil war, the same playbook used for Syria, for Libya and for Iraq," said Socialist Party official Freddy Bernal in an internet broadcast at 1:00 a.m.

A Reuters witness heard gunshots and tear gas canisters being fired late into the night on Thursday in the working class Caracas neighborhood of El Valle, with numerous businesses in the morning showing signs of having been looted.

Local media reported similar situations in other parts of the city.

The OPEC nation's economy has been in free-fall since the collapse of oil prices in 2014. The generous oil-financed welfare state created by late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, Maduro's predecessor, has given way to a Soviet-style economy marked by consumer shortages, triple-digit inflation and snaking supermarket lines.

Public anger at the situation spilled over last month when the Supreme Court, which is seen as close to the government, briefly assumed the powers of the Congress. The protests were further fueled when the government barred the opposition's best-known leader, two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, from holding public office.

(Reporting by Eyanir Chinea and Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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