A Venezuelan Spring? Three killed as armed vigilantes on motorcycles attack anti-government protesters

The unrest comes on the heels of a wave of increasingly violent, student-led protests that have spread across the country in the past two weeks

At least three people have been shot dead in Caracas after a peaceful protest produced violent clashes between pro- and anti-government activists. Two died when armed men on motorcycles began firing into a crowd of opposition demonstrators, who had gathered to protest the policies of the country’s socialist President, Nicolas Maduro. A third man was killed later as the violence spread through the city.

The deaths followed two weeks of increasingly heated protests across Venezuela, the most widespread unrest since Mr Maduro’s controversial election victory last year. Officials said afterwards that some 25 people had been injured in the clashes on Wednesday, more than 30 arrested, at least five police cars burned and some government offices vandalised. The protesters reportedly threw stones at the security forces and burned tyres in the streets.

Around 10,000 people attended the opposition rally in central Caracas, which began calmly as the crowd marched to the federal prosecutor’s office to call for the release of 13 fellow activists detained during similar protests in recent days.

Mr Maduro, a 51-year-old former bus driver, succeeded his political mentor, Hugo Chavez, following Mr Chavez’s death in March 2013. Opposition critics say his administration has presided over and exacerbated the country’s problems with corruption, crime and cost of living: Venezuela has the highest inflation rate in the region and one of the highest murder rates in the world. Leopoldo Lopez, leader of the opposition party Popular Will, told the crowd, “All of these problems – shortages, inflation, insecurity, the lack of opportunities – have a single culprit: the government.”

As the rally concluded and the crowd began to disperse, some protesters clashed with police, at which point the men on motorcycles – thought to be pro-government vigilantes – appeared and opened fire. The crowd scattered, but one anti-government protester, later identified as 24-year-old student Bassil da Costa, was shot in the head and died.

A pro-government activist, Juan “Juancho” Montoya, was also shot in the melée. The president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, announced afterwards that Mr Montoya had been “vilely assassinated by the fascists”. It remains unclear if he and Mr Da Costa were shot by the motorcyclists or by other gunmen. As dusk fell, the violence spread east towards the wealthy Chacao district, where a third protester was shot dead.

In a televised address, a defiant Mr Maduro blamed the unrest on a “neo-fascist upsurge”. The opposition protesters, he said, “want to topple the government through violence. They have no ethics, no morals... We will not permit any more attacks.”

On Thursday, authorities issued a warrant for Mr Lopez, for charges including instigating crime and terrorism. Lopez, ex-mayor of Chacao, said he was simply a scapegoat and that government supporters had posed as student protesters in order to instigate the violence and then blame it on the opposition. Lopez told Reuters: “I’m innocent. I have a clear conscience because we called for peace.”

Lopez and other opposition politicians insisted the protests would continue in spite of the bloodshed. Henrique Capriles, who ran against Mr Maduro in 2012’s presidential race, tweeted, “We condemn violence! We know the vast majority rejects and condemns it.”

Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of Caracas, said, “Just as we condemn the violent incidents, we say to all Venezuelan families that we have to remain ready to continue fighting, calmly but with determination. You have to know, Mr Maduro, that whatever you do, what started today will not stop until change is achieved in peace and with democracy for all Venezuelans.”

The protests have been largely populated by students, who have also staged mass demonstrations in the western cities of San Cristobal and Merida, where at least three people were injured by gunfire during protests on Wednesday, according to the AP.

Venezuela had an inflation rate of 56.2 per cent last year, and thanks to strict foreign exchange controls its citizens have recently faced shortages of medicine, spare parts, food, milk and toilet paper.

While the opposition blames Mr Maduro, the President has blamed unnamed “saboteurs” and “profit-hungry corrupt businessmen”.

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
techResearchers recover 100s of nude photos from second-hand smartphones
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
peopleJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Digital Marketing,London

To £58k Contract 12 months: Charter Selection: Major household name charity se...

Network Support Engineer / Junior Test Analyst

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: A market leading, in...

Key Account Manager, Medical

£35000 per annum, Benefits: Excellent commission structure + Car: Charter Sele...

Key Account Manager, Medical

£35000 per annum, Benefits: Excellent commission structure + Car: Charter Sele...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice