US President Donald Trump's national security adviser Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster has met with Venezuela's opposition leader and Parliament Speaker Julio Borges, who seek to oust the oil-rich country's President Nicolas Maduro amid an economic crisis fueled by the 2014 crash of oil prices.
According to the state prosecutor's office, at least 37 people have died, 717 have been injured and hundreds arrested in the widespread unrest this past month around the volatile South American OPEC nation. This now marks five weeks of sustained protests against Maduro, whom opponents decry as a dictator who has ruined the economy.
The MUD opposition coalition showed scenes on its Twitter account of women demonstrating in at least 10 states in the interior after the anti-Chavista platform called for protests in every state capital. He has vowed to defend the socialist "revolution" launched by the late president Hugo Chavez, who oversaw the writing of the current constitution and passed away in 2013.
Opposition protests have started peacefully but escalated into violence when security forces block the protests and throw tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators.
"We are not going to be off the streets until we have set Venezuela free", conservative opposition leader Maria Corina Machado said.
Clouds of grey smoke from tear gas canisters filled the air Wednesday as police with riot shields and trucks advanced along the highway in eastern Caracas.
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People have waited in long queues to buy basic supplies while restaurants in cities like Valencia remain closed.
Surrounded by top-ranking socialist officials, a riled-up Maduro told supporters dressed in red outside the National Electoral Council that the constitutional assembly was needed to instill peace against a violent opposition.
He says the economic crisis is a US-backed conspiracy to topple him and install a right-wing government.
And Venezuelan classical music maestro Gustavo Dudamel spoke out against events in his country, calling on Maduro to listen to the protesters.
The deputy president of the FCU-UCV, Alfredo Garcia, said at that meeting that "students have already been on the streets for more than 35 days", assuring "we will not abandon them". A 17 year-old was also killed during the day's protests. Over the course of the a year ago, Venezuela was suspended from MERCOSUR, a regional trade bloc, and many Latin American officials-particularly in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru-began to forcefully criticize Maduro for the first time.
We owe our youth a hopeful world, a country where we can walk freely in dissent, in respect, in tolerance, in dialogue and in which dreams have room to build the Venezuela we all yearn for.
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