Venezuelan Protest Turns Lethal, Govt. Teeters

Mass demonstration ends in gunfire with at least three dead, President Maduro clamps down on opposition, press.

Ari Yashar ,

Mass protests in Venezuela
Mass protests in Venezuela

Venezuela's government seems to be teetering on the brink of collapse, as a massive protest of over 10,000 demonstrators turned violent Wednesday in clashes with the police. The government, under President Nicolas Maduro, has clamped down on opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

Maduro, who took power from Hugo Chavez after he died last March, has kicked US diplomats out of his socialist country, accusing them of "sabotage." He has also insulted his political opponents as "heirs to Hitler" in the past, and has been frequently accused of anti-Semitism.

The Venezuelan government issued an arrest warrant against Lopez for charges of conspiracy and murder in connection with the clashes on Thursday, reports CNN. Lopez has denied the charges, saying "I have no doubt that the violence today was the responsibility of the government."

The confrontation occurred after Lopez led a massive peaceful protest through the capital city of Caracas. Afterwards, a few hundred protesters stayed behind, with some reports indicating they threw rocks at police who responded with tear gas, according to the New York Times.

As the clash heated up, reportedly a number of armed men on motorcycles shot at the crowd, hitting 24-year-old protester Bassil da Costa in the head and killing him. Pro-government activist Juan Montoya was also shot to death, along with a third unidentified man in protests in the east of Caracas.

The protests come in response to Maduro's management of the country, leading Venezuela to have one of the highest murder rates in the world, the highest inflation rate in the region at 56.2% as of 2013, and systemic shortages of basic goods, reports BBC.

Maduro has continued Chavez's friendship with Iran, while being an outspoken enemy of the "repressive state of Israel."

Meanwhile, Maduro threatened news sources not to carry live coverage of the demonstrations, a threat he carried out by removing the international Spanish-language news channel NTN24 from cable and satellite services when they refused to be silenced. Security forces also reportedly grabbed equipment from press photographers covering the demonstration.

Despite his opposition to having the protests viewed, Maduro declared "I want to alert the world. We are facing a developing coup plan against the democracy and the government that I preside over, orchestrated by a small group of irresponsible leaders, violent, full of hatred and personal ambitions."

Meanwhile, Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma warned Maduro, telling him "whatever you do, what started today will not stop until change is achieved in peace and with democracy for all Venezuelans."