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Tens of thousands of Venezuelans march against President Maduro

Mary Mogollon and Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Tens of thousands of Venezuelans used a national holiday to demonstrate yet again against the government of embattled President Nicolas Maduro, and at least two people died as the government used heavily armed forces and tear gas to control the vast crowds.

Marching on a day marking the beginning of Venezuela's independence movement from Spain in 1810, protesters dressed mainly in white clogged freeways and main thoroughfares across metropolitan Caracas, the capital. Many held placards reading "Maduro out," "Down with dictatorship" and "Liberty."

One of the fatalities was identified in social media as 19-year-old Carlos Jose Moreno Baron, said to have been killed by a gunshot to the head fired by informal motorcycle-riding militias who support Maduro. The death reportedly happened during an attack on a group of protesters in the working-class San Bernardino barrio.

April 19 is normally a day in which businesses shut down, families in Caracas to head to the beach and politicians leave flowers at a monument to the nation's founder, Simon Bolivar.

But on this usually festive day, a photograph circulated on social media of a young man, his eyes closed, lying on his back in the street as blood pooled about his head. One tweet by Hasler Iglesias, a student protest leader, described him as "a victim of the murderous dictatorship."

Later in the day, Paola Andreina Ramirez Gomez, 23, also was reported killed by a gunshot in the San Carlos Plaza area of San Cristobal, capital of the western state of Tachira. It was not immediately clear who fired the shot.

In addition to Caracas, social media reported massive demonstrations in provincial cities including Merida, Maracaibo, Valencia and San Cristobal.

Accustomed to authorities using tear gas to clear earlier demonstrations, many protesters showed up wearing gas masks. Some young men stripped off their shirts to cover their faces. Still others wore cycling helmets, or other kinds of headgear, for protection.

Social media provided a steady stream of images from the chaotic scenes, showing smoky tear canisters flying through the air, and protesters lobbying them back at police.

Iglesias, who has developed a national reputation as an anti-government protest organizer, described the scene on a highway devoid of cars but full of protesters. In a tweet he said authorities continued to engage protesters, "but we will not be moved. Fight with the RESISTENCE."

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