CARACAS – Venezuela’s opposition sought on Thursday to increase pressure on President Nicolas Maduro with a general strike that paralyzed parts of some cities amid disturbances leading to two deaths and 173 arrests.
Protesters who blocked streets with piles of garbage, tree branches and other obstacles were met by security forces using tear gas and buckshot.
Ronney Tejera, 24, was fatally shot during a demonstration in Los Teques, southwest of Caracas, the Attorney General’s Office said, without offering any details.
The other fatality was in the central Venezuelan city of Valencia, where 23-year-old Andres Uzcategui was killed and six other people wounded, the AG Office said.
Lawmakers and other leaders of the MUD opposition alliance proclaimed the strike a success, using social media to disseminate images of deserted streets and shuttered shops.
But the pro-government CBST union said its members reported to work as usual.
“We say to fascism, to terrorism, that here there is no working class that joins any strike with its own executioners,” CBST chief Wills Rangel said, alluding to support for the strike from Venezuela’s main employers association, Fedecamaras.
Opposition spokespeople and human rights groups characterized the response of security forces as repression.
EFE witnessed clashes between protesters and cops in Caracas.
El Hatillo, Chacao and Sucre, opposition-run Caracas municipalities that are bastions of opposition to the leftist Maduro government, were virtually paralyzed as demonstrators filled the streets early in the morning and shut down public transport.
In Sucre, opposition militants attacked the headquarters of state television and set fire to a postal truck.
Maduro blamed Sucre Mayor Carlos Ocariz for the incidents and called on prosecutors to charge him.
The opposition vowed to intensify the campaign against in the wake of an unofficial referendum last Sunday.
Organizers say 7.5 million Venezuelans – out of 19.5 million eligible voters – took part in the plebiscite, in which voters rejected a proposed assembly to rewrite the constitution and expressed support for early elections before Maduro’s term expires in 2018.
The president says the assembly is necessary to restore order in oil-rich Venezuela, which has been racked by near-daily protests and a deep economic crisis.
But the president’s opponents say the constituent assembly, whose members are to be elected on July 30, is merely a cynical ploy to buy time. The opposition has said it will boycott the assembly election.