March 7, 2014 - 10:25 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - A Venezuelan soldier and a motorcyclist died in a confused melee sparked by the opposition's barricading of a Caracas street, officials said on Thursday, March 6 boosting the death toll from nearly a month of violence to 20, Reuters reported.
Demonstrators have for weeks staged rallies and set up barricades to demand the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro, leading to clashes with security forces and government supporters.
Motorcycle drivers clearing a barricade in the middle-class neighborhood of Los Ruices were attacked by residents from nearby buildings who threw rocks and later shot at them, National Guard Gen. Manuel Quevedo told Reuters.
The motorcyclist who was killed, Jose Cantillo, who was in his early twenties, was shot in the neck, Quevedo said.
"Make no mistake, the National Guard and the armed forces are going to continue patrolling the streets to restore order," he said in an interview at the scene of the events.
A second motorcycle driver was wounded and is in critical condition, President Maduro said in a televised broadcast.
Troops arrived in some 20 armored vehicles and used tear gas to disperse several hundred demonstrators, Reuters witnesses said.
Residents continued throwing rocks from above, but angry passers-by threw them back and attempted to force their way into buildings in an apparent attempt to find the assailants.
The troops used riot shields to shelter other soldiers from the rain of stones as they knocked down barricades and cleared debris including a car that demonstrators had burned in the morning, the witnesses said.
Maduro on Wednesday called on pro-government organizations including groups known as 'colectivos,' which opposition leaders describe as paramilitary groups, to help keep order in the streets.
The demonstrations began as sporadic protests against chronic product shortages and inflation that reached 56 percent in 2013, but expanded into a nationwide movement after three people were killed after a February 12 march, unleashing the country's worst unrest in a decade.
Since then the protests have been more focused on complaints of excessive use of force in breaking up protests and demands for the release of imprisoned activists including Leopoldo Lopez, who spearheaded the nationwide protest efforts.