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Unrest Death Toll Rises as Looting Ravages Venezuela | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A demonstrator, right, catches fire, after the gas tank of a police motorbike exploded, during clashes in a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, on May 3, 2017. Juan Barreto / AFP

The toll from unrest in more than a month of anti-government protests in Venezuela rose to at least 36 on Friday as looting broke out in impoverished cities and the opposition geared up for more demonstrators.

Hecder Lugo Perez, 22, died on Friday after he was hit in the head by a projectile in the northwestern city of Valencia a day earlier, sources at the Valles de San Diego medical clinic said.

Four other protesters were injured in the same incident.

The state prosecutor’s office, which keeps an official count of deaths since protests began last month, said another 717 people have been injured and 152 are still in jail from the hundreds rounded up in widespread unrest around the volatile South American nation of 30 million people.

Mass protests erupted on April 1 by demonstrators demanding elections to remove President Nicolas Maduro. They blame him for an economic crisis that has caused shortages of food, medicine and other basics.

Anger boiled over Friday in the western municipality of Rosario de Perija, where young protesters burned, pulled down and then smashed a statue of late leader Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s late predecessor and mentor.

Looting broke out this week in cities such as Valencia, which looked like a disaster zone with bars on shop windows bent and windows broken.

Residents were stockpiling food, water and fuel. At least 70 stores have been raided since Tuesday, the Valencia chamber of commerce said.

Maduro is resisting opposition demands for elections and each side accuses the other of using armed groups to sow violence in the demonstrations.

Maduro has the public backing of the military high command, which analysts say is key to resisting the protests.

However, senior opposition leader Henrique Capriles said on Friday that 85 mid-ranking army officers have been detained for opposing moves to crack down on protesters.

He cited information he said was given by the officers’ families.

Vowing to stay in the streets for as long as necessary, Maduro’s opponents called for women to march nationwide on Saturday dressed in white, a traditional show of defiance against what they brand a repressive government.

“The regime is falling,” said Lilian Tintori, wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, outside the prison near Caracas where she was demanding to see her husband.

“It has no strength and is showing its worst side, using weapons because it is does not have right on its side.”

The celebrity Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel, director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, added his voice to calls for an end to the violence on Thursday.

He called for Maduro to “listen to the voice of the Venezuelan people”, in a message posted on Facebook.