Death toll from Venezuela demos rises to 20

CARACAS (AFP) - A police officer and a civilian died Thursday during clashes in the Venezuelan capital Caracas, bringing to 20 the toll from a month of anti-government demonstrations in the divided country.

The member of the National Guard succumbed in hospital to a gun shot wound to the chest while a man on a motorbike also died, State Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz told local television.

Authorities said the incident happened when a group of men on motorbikes tried to break through a barricade in the east of Caracas, where improvised blockades have multiplied in recent days.

Witnesses said the shots came from a crowd of protesters. But the president of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello blamed "snipers" positioned on top of a building.

Street protests erupted in Venezuela on February 4 and have continued every day since in the biggest challenge yet to President Nicolas Maduro's nearly year-old, socialist-inspired government.

Public anger over rampant crime, shortages of basic goods and arrests of protesters have fueled the unrest, which Maduro charges is part of a US-backed plot by "fascists" to destabilize his regime.

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