Venezuela protesters, troops clash

Updated: 2014-02-21 13:25


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Caracas was much calmer on Thursday, though knots of opposition demonstrators gathered again in the same square, Plaza Altamira. Some businesses stayed closed, a further drag on the already ailing economy.

The government said a funeral parade for deceased folk singer Simon Diaz, a beloved figure who died on Wednesday aged 85, was held up due to "violent groups" blocking roads.

Tensions have escalated since opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, a 42-year-old Harvard-educated economist, turned himself in to troops this week. He is being held in Caracas' Ramo Verde military jail on charges of fomenting the violence.

"Change depends on every one of us. Don't give up!" Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, said on Twitter on Thursday.

Local TV channels are providing almost no live coverage of the unrest, so Venezuelans are turning to social media to swap information and images. Falsified photos are also circulating.

Both sides rolled out competing evidence of the latest violence on Thursday. Ruling Socialist Party governors showed photos and video of charred streets and torched vehicles, while the opposition posted footage of brutal behavior which they said was by National Guard troops.

Protest leaders say soldiers and pro-government armed community groups known as "colectivos" are sometimes shooting at demonstrators, while officials say sharpshooters are targeting pro-Maduro rallies from rooftops and elsewhere.

Maduro, elected last year to succeed socialist leader Hugo Chavez, says Lopez and "small fascist groups" are in league with the US government and want a coup.

He has been sharply critical of international media coverage, and on Thursday he warned CNN it risked being kicked out of the country if it did not "rectify" its ways.

US President Barack Obama has criticized Maduro's government for arresting protesters and urged it to focus on addressing the "legitimate grievances" of its people.