Demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro continued in the Venezuelan capital Caracas as students took to the streets on Thursday as the death toll in the protests gripping the country reached 37.
“We are students, not terrorists!” a mass of students chanted as they marched in Caracas.
Soldiers bathed hundreds of protesters in tear gas at the Central University of Venezuela, with medics in gas masks attending to students with bloodied faces and limbs.
Gunfire erupted at a student gathering in El Tigre, a city southeast of Caracas, leaving Juan Lopez, 33, dead and three others injured, according to the chief prosecutor’s office. Preliminary reports indicate an assailant fired at Lopez toward the end of the meeting and then fled on a motorcycle. Lopez was the president of a university federation.
The student leader’s death brought to at least 37 the number killed in Venezuela’s ongoing political turmoil.
Earlier Thursday, authorities announced a 38-year-old police officer in the central state of Carabobo had died of his injuries after being shot during a Wednesday protest that had hundreds of thousands of people on the street nationwide. Wednesday’s protest also left a 17-year-old student and musician dead.
News of the latest deaths came as organizers announced a women’s march for Saturday. Protesters at the women’s rally, to take place in downtown Caracas, were urged to wear white, a traditional show of defiance against what organizers have branded a repressive government.
More than 700 others have been wounded, no small matter in a country with crippling medical shortages. Opposition leaders said 30 were injured in Thursday’s student demonstrations. Overall, more than 1,000 have been arrested.
West of Caracas in Valencia, there were reports of looting at several businesses and at least one factory, the thieves taking off with plastic crates filled with bottles and even a forklift. The local chamber of commerce said at least 70 stores have been raided since Tuesday.
Protesters are demanding immediate presidential elections. Maduro accuses the opposition of attempting a coup, and has responded with an initiative to rewrite the constitution.
“I don’t know how long the protests are going to last,” senior opposition leader Henrique Capriles told AFP in an interview.
“If we were being violent, if we were not being democratic, we would already have toppled the government.”
Walking through an agricultural expo where he pet goats and sampled cheese Thursday, Maduro repeatedly reiterated his call for a special assembly tasked with defining Venezuela’s future. He added that the yet-to-be-created constituent body would decide the South American nation’s destiny “for the next 50 years.”
Despite the country’s chaos, Maduro retains the military’s public backing — one thing that analysts say could yet tip the balance against him.
“What happens if the National Guard (military police) says they are not going to continue the repression?” Capriles said.
International pressure on Maduro to hold elections is continuing to escalate amid his call for a constitution rewrite. A group of bipartisan US legislators sent a letter to President Donald Trump Thursday urging him to apply new sanctions against individuals responsible for human rights violations and to push for the delivery of humanitarian relief.