Three dead after day of demonstrations in Venezuela

BY Kayla Ruble  March 23, 2014 at 1:53 PM EST
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Police intervene during a student protest in Caracas on Saturday. Tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators participated in marches throughout Venezuela, often clashing with government supporters. (Credit: Joaquin Ferrer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Three people died from gunshot wounds in Venezuela on Saturday after a day of protests from both the opposition and government supporters, bringing the death toll to 34 after five weeks of heated unrest against the socialist government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

One of the victims, Jesus Orlando Labrador, was gunned down in the city of Merida while participating in a peaceful anti-Maduro march. The city’s mayor, Carlos Garcia, told the Associated Press that the incident occurred when suspected government supporters began shooting the demonstrators.

Argenis Hernandez was shot and killed by a driver in Valencia while he joined with other protesters to guard a highway barricade. The third victim was a bus driver Wilfredo Rey who was killed by Maduro supporters on motorcycles who aimlessly fired into the crowd. Rey was reportedly not involved in the protests.

In cities like Caracas, tens of thousands of anti-Maduro activists joined in peaceful marches throughout the day.

The deaths and large demonstrations came on the same day that President Maduro, the chosen successor of deceased leader Hugo Chavez, said the protests had caused $10 billion in damage.

Maduro also spoke to a crowd at a smaller rally held by loyalist students who were angry that the demonstrations and violence have kept universities closed for weeks.

“These Chuckys are direct descendants of the Nazis,” Maduro said while speaking to the crowd, according to the Associated Press. Maduro uses the Hollywood horror movie character’s name to refer to the protesters.

With economists expecting a recession to hit Venezuela this year, the protests have put further strain on a country dealing with serious economic struggles. Inflation rates hit 57 percent in February, while business closures and shortages of basic goods have been widely reported.