CARACAS Venezuelan security forces battled protesters who lit fires and hurled stones on Wednesday in rage at President Nicolas Maduro’s decree to create an alternative congress, with another fatality taking the death toll to 34 during a month of unrest.
In a familiar pattern in protests against the socialist government, thousands of opposition supporters rallied peacefully at first before being blocked, sparking fights around the city between masked youths and soldiers.
One 17-year-old protester died in the melee from an object that hit him in the neck, said Gerardo Blyde, a district mayor for the opposition.
More than 200 people were injured as fights raged in various parts of the capital, Blyde and another opposition mayor said.
Marchers tried to reach the National Assembly legislature, where the opposition has a majority, to protest Maduro’s creation of an alternative “Popular” congress viewed by foes as a ruse to dodge free elections and cling to power.
“They are mobilized as if this was a war,” said opposition leader Henrique Capriles, broadcasting from the scene via the Periscope app favored by protest leaders.
On the opposition side, youths donned gas masks and bandanas, throwing Molotov cocktails and using slingshots to fire stones.
Opposition leaders have vowed to stay in the streets after Maduro’s announcement on Monday that he was creating the “Constituent assembly” which is empowered to rewrite the constitution.
While the opposition was keeping up momentum, it was unclear how the protests could achieve their aims after demonstrations in 2014 failed to dislodge Maduro.
Back then the opposition was splintered, protests failed to spread to poor areas and the economy was in better shape.
Maduro, 54, the former bus driver who narrowly won election to replace Hugo Chavez in 2013, says his foes are seeking a violent coup with the connivance of the United States and encouragement of international media.
Officials say violence around the protests, and the opposition’s unwillingness to hold talks, left Maduro with no choice but to shake up Venezuela’s governing apparatus.
The opposition is seeking to hold state gubernatorial elections delayed from 2016 and bring forward the 2018 presidential vote amid a devastating economic crisis.
The office said Yonathan Quintero, 21, had been killed while a group was “Damaging” a business after a protest in the Carabobo state capital of Valencia.
The opposition scoffs that an inept government blames Maduro critics as a smokescreen for rampant crime and lack of maintenance that have Venezuela’s infrastructure creaking.