SAN CRISTOBAL, Venezuela Mobs looted shops and fought security forces overnight in Venezuela’s restive western region, where three soldiers were being charged on Thursday with the shooting death of a man who was buying diapers for his baby, witnesses said.
Six weeks of anti-government unrest have resulted in at least 44 deaths, as well as hundreds of injuries and arrests in the worst turmoil of President Nicolas Maduro’s four-year rule of the South American OPEC nation.
Protesters are demanding elections to kick out the socialist government which they accuse of wrecking the economy and turning Venezuela into a dictatorship. Maduro, 54, the successor to late leader Hugo Chavez, says his foes are seeking a violent coup.
Even though the government was sending 2,000 troops to Tachira state, on the border with Colombia, clashes and looting raged overnight, witnesses said.
Security forces fired teargas at stone-throwing gangs, and crowds smashed their way into shops and offices in state capital San Cristobal and elsewhere.
Forty-six-year old Manuel Castellanos was shot in the neck on Wednesday when caught in a melee walking home with diapers he had bought for his son, witnesses said.
Diapers have become prized products in Venezuela due to widespread shortages of basic domestic items.
The State Prosecutor’s Office said three National Guard sergeants would be charged later on Thursday for their “presumed responsibility” in his killing.
Earlier in the week, a 15-year-old was shot dead when out buying flour for his family’s dinner.
Most shops in San Cristobal, a traditional hotbed of anti-government militancy, were closed on Thursday, with long lines at the few establishments open.
International disquiet at the Venezuelan crisis is growing.
France became the latest country calling for mediation amid the worsening situation. Britain warned its citizens against “all but essential travel” to Venezuela.
(Reporting by Anggy Polanco; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Girish Gupta and Bernadette Baum)