Venezuelan 19-year-old killed during anti-Maduro protests

People take cover from teargas during a protest against the Venezuelan Government in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 6, 2017.
People take cover from teargas during a protest against the Venezuelan Government in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 6, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

CARACAS (REUTERS) - Venezuelan authorities confirmed a 19-year-old man was killed on Thursday (April 6) during anti-government demonstrations and vowed to investigate the fatal attack, the first protest death since a controversy over the Supreme Court blew up last week.

Thousands of Venezuelan opponents of President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government marched on Thursday to protest a decision by the administration-leaning top court to assume control of the opposition-led congress in what demonstrators said was a lurch toward dictatorship.

While the widely condemned decision was quickly overturned, the opposition has stepped up street protests against Maduro, even though such demonstrations have achieved little in the past.

Thursday's march culminated in clashes, and opposition leaders said Jairo Ortiz was shot in a Caracas suburb that night by security forces that were breaking up a protest there.

The state prosecutor's office on Friday (April 7) confirmed that Ortiz was shot in the hilly, low-income Carrizal area of capital Caracas, known for its state-provided housing, while he was at a protest.

"Officials of the Bolivarian National Guard and the Bolivarian National police approached the area," the office said in a statement, adding it would investigate the incident.

"During this situation, Ortiz ... received a bullet that caused his death."

Local media reported Ortiz was a university student planning to emigrate from Venezuela, like so many in the middle class that have fled to Colombia, Panama, Chile or the US city of Miami amid the economic crisis and political turmoil.

MORE PROTESTS AHEAD

A galvanized opposition, buoyed by the latest international outcry against Maduro, is planning another protest in Caracas on Saturday (April 8).

Lawmakers gathered on Friday in front of the state human rights ombudsman's office at dawn, wrapping red tape emblazoned with the words "danger, do not enter" around the building in a surprise protest.

"We declare this office closed because it's back is to the people," tweeted opposition legislator Milagros Paz. "Jairo Ortiz died in the hands of this regime."

The opposition, which accuses ombudsman Tarek Saab of being an extension of Maduro's government, was blocked on Thursday from marching to the ombudsman's office.

Saab condemned Ortiz's death on Friday, calling it a "vile assassination."

Maduro's government has said foreign-backed opposition lawmakers are seeking to agitate protesters in hopes of stoking a coup to get their hands on Venezuela's crude reserves, the world's largest.

Maduro said in a televised address on Thursday that authorities had detained 30 people involved in the demonstration.