Maduro Says Ready for Elections Amid Anti-Government Protests in Caracas

Venezuela's executive vice president Tareck El Aissami rejected accusations by opposition groups who blame the government of Nicolas Maduro for the deaths of the two people amid the demonstrations.

A young man was shot during an anti-government demonstration in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, two people who witnessed the incident said.

In Latin America, where other governments are increasingly alarmed by Venezuela's instability, 11 countries including Brazil, Mexico and Chile issued a statement Monday condemning the deaths of protesters and urging the security forces to show restraint. Over 400 people were arrested during protests on Wednesday, rights group Penal Forum said.

Maduro, who says recent protests have been little more than opposition efforts to foment violence and topple his government, has called on supporters of the ruling Socialist Party to hold a competing march in Caracas.

Speaking at a pro-government rally in the capital, Caracas, on Wednesday, Maduro called opposition leader Julio Borges a "coward", as quoted by The Washington Post, but also said that all the sectors of the opposition who were willing to engage in dialogue were invited to do so. The opposition says he has morphed into a dictator and accuses his government of using armed civilians to spread violence and fear.

The opposition called for another protest on Thursday, raising the specter of prolonged disruption in Venezuela.

"Today there were millions of us", senior opposition leader Henrique Capriles told a news conference late Wednesday. "I left her on a block where she was going to find her sister and I went to hide the bike".

Anti-government protesters rest during a break in clashes with security forces in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, April 19, 2017. The government has repeatedly blocked any attempts by the opposition to oust Maduro from power by a referendum vote.

The three killings bring to eight the death toll since protests began three weeks ago over the Supreme Court's decision to strip the opposition-controlled congress of its last remaining powers, a move that was later reversed amid a storm of global criticism.

"This is like a chess game and each side is moving whatever pieces they can", said Machuca, her face covered in a white, sticky substance to protect herself from the effects of tear gas.

Paola Ramirez, a university student from San Cristobal, a city near the Colombian border, was also shot by armed government supporters when she and her boyfriend were running away from the gang. At least five people have been killed and many more injured in clashes.

The public prosecutor's office has called for an investigation into the shooting. The opposition blamed both deaths to "colectivos", which have opened fire on protestors in every protest conducted on these past weeks. The protests trailed off with youths throwing rocks squaring off against security forces spraying tear gas.

The opposition marched to demand early elections, the release of political prisoners, and humanitarian aid. Critics say any elections since have been delayed because Maduro is afraid of the outcome. "We're fed up. We want elections to get Maduro out, because he's destroyed this country", said protester Ingrid Chacon, a 54-year-old secretary. He appeared on Wednesday afternoon on national television saying that the corrupt and interventionist right-wing had been defeated.

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