Five Venezuelans killed during anti-Maduro protests

CARACAS – Five people have been killed as a wave of violent anti-government protests enters its third week in Venezuela.

Thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets in wealthy eastern Caracas amid a tropical downpour Thursday to support a protest movement that is gaining steam even as it turns more deadly.

Officials said the death of 36-year-old Miguel Colmenares, who was shot during a demonstration in Barquisimeto on Tuesday, will be investigated.

That follows the death of Gruseny Calderon, 32, who was fatally injured by rubber bullets that pierced his lung and liver during the same protest.

Two college students and a 13-year-old have also died during the protests.

The unrest has been increasing over a punishing recession and accusations that Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro has seized dictatorial powers.

That followed the decision by the supreme court, which backs Maduro, to remove legislative powers from the opposition-controlled national assembly.

The SC reversed that decision following an international outcry.

But the decision last week to ban opposition leader Henrique Capriles from holding public office for 15 years triggered anger among opposition supporters.

Capriles was seen as the best hope for the opposition in elections scheduled for late next year.

The Caracas rally was peaceful until the end, when young men clashed with hundreds of riot police who lobbed tear gas to break up the crowd. As state security forces lean more heavily on tear gas, protesters have begun coming ready with goggles, vinegar-soaked rags and gas masks.

People in poorer areas in the country – traditionally strong supporters of the socialist revolution launched by late president Hugo Chavez nearly 20 years ago, have also blocked streets and set fires during the unrest.

And a crowd broke through a security cordon and heckled President Maduro as he left an event on Tuesday.

More protests are planned for the coming days, leading up to an April 19 demonstration the opposition is billing as the mother of all marches.