Three people were killed in Venezuela on Monday in renewed violence, raising the death toll in three weeks of massive demonstrations against populist President Nicolas Maduro to 24, officials said. Several others were seriously injured and between life and death, said public defender Tarek William Saab.
The latest casualties come on a day anti-Maduro demonstrators blocked major roads in the country. Two government trucks in eastern Caracas were set alight on a freeway by masked protesters who poured oil on the road. Police nearby did not immediately intervene.
Elsewhere in the capital, riot police fired tear gas at another group of protesters who threw stones at them. However the majority of demonstrators, who numbered in the thousands, rallied peacefully.
The return to violence in the streets of Venezuela after a weekend lull was certain to further stoke international concern over the country, whose economy is imploding. Latin American countries and the United States have voiced concern at the unrest.
The population is suffering shortages of food, medicine and basic supplies. Riots and looting have occurred in several places.
The conservative-led opposition says government incompetence is to blame and calls the president a dictator. It wants early elections. But Maduro, who has the backing of the armed forces, says Venezuela is the victim of a US-led capitalist plot.
The two deaths on Monday happened in western Venezuela. Saab said one man in the city of Merida was demonstrating peacefully when he apparently received a gunshot. He added in a television interview that the killed man was a pro-government demonstrator. There were five people badly wounded in the city, he added.
The other man killed was in the nearby town of Barinas. The opposition party, Justice First, said the protest the man was in was against Maduro when it was targeted by pro-government paramilitaries. It said two other people were wounded.
The government has ruled out a presidential election this year, maintaining that Maduro will see out his term into 2018. Elections for regional governors and municipalities due in December have been postponed.
However Maduro said on Sunday he wanted the regional elections now but did not indicate a possible date for those or local ballots that are due this year. I am ready for whatever the electoral authorities say, he insisted.
The captain of Venezuela's national football team, Tomas Rincon, joined other sports figures to appealing for an end to the crisis. No more repression! he wrote on Twitter, offering himself to be a driving force in the rebirth of our country.
Miguel Cabrera, a major league baseball player, wrote on Instagram that his native country was killing itself and those who have power in Venezuela are unable to do anything.