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Protests In Venezuela Intensify, As Government Deploys Military

Venezuelan anti-government students light a fire during clashes with riot policemen in Caracas on Thursday.
Raul Arboleda
AFP/Getty Images
Venezuelan anti-government students light a fire during clashes with riot policemen in Caracas on Thursday.

Thousands of protesters are out on the streets across Venezuela again Friday. This time, the Venezuelan military is also out on the streets trying quash more than two weeks of protests.

How tense is the situation? A human rights activist and opponent of the current government tells Venezuela's El Universal that the current standoff has led to the worst violations of human rights in 15 years. By that, Delsa Solorzano means that it is the worst human rights situation since the country ushered in Chavismo, or the leftist political ideals of the late Hugo Chávez.

El Universal goes on to report that:

-- The country's attorney general says eight people have been killed and 137 have been injured throughout the country.

-- Streets remained blocked in the state of Táchira, where students began the protests that later spread nationwide.

El Nacional, a Caracas-based newspaper, reports that military jets have been flying over Táchira and that the government has cut off Internet to hundreds of thousands of residents of the state.

El Nuevo Herald, meanwhile, reports that Henrique Capriles, an opposition leader, accused the government of Nicolas Maduro of fomenting unrest.

"The government is doing everything possible to emerge from this crisis stronger," Capriles is quoted as saying. "They're saying a group of fascists is trying to burn down the country in order to cover up the great problems we're currently living."

Over the past few days, Maduro, who was Hugo Chavez's right-hand man, has accused the United States and its allies of trying to destabilize the country.

Caracas Chronicles, an English-language blog that leans toward the opposition, writes that the protests started in San Cristobal, after government forces tamped down a student protest using a heavy hand.

The blog explains:

"Venezuela has one of the world's highest levels of crime. After over a year of asking the state government for improved security measures to curb rampant crime on campus, a freshman at ULA's Táchira campus was sexually assaulted.

"This attempted rape caused a wave of local protests, with students and civil society groups taking to the streets to demand justice. The government's response was heavy handed from the start: five students were detained following a protest and sent to a jail hundreds of miles away in Coro, stoking anger even further. Students in other universities joined the protests in solidarity, demanding the original five be released, only to be repressed in their turn.

"As the protest movement gained steam, the protests have become as much about civil rights and the Right to Protest itself — rejecting the government's criminalization of all dissent — as about the original goals. Later still, they took on the tone of a general anti-government rebellion, with streets being blocked and running battles with security forces taking place night after night."

Eventually the protests spread to the capital city, and the coalition of opposition parties joined the fray. It culminated when longtime opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez turned himself in to police during a huge rally in Caracas.

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Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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