Venezuela death toll rises to 39 amid new protests

Venezuela death toll rises to 39 amid new protests

CARACAS - The death toll from several weeks of protests that have paralysed Venezuela rose to 39 on Saturday after two more people died in separate incidents, Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said on VTV public television that in San Cristobal, hotbed of the movement that has seen some of the worst violence, a 44-year-old man died after being struck by a high tension cable as demonstrators carried a billboard to form a barricade.

In Maracaibo, a 33-year-old man was killed after a homemade mortar he was handling suddenly exploded.

President Nicolas Maduro's leftist government has faced a wave of near-daily street protests since February 4, with the public venting anger over soaring crime, hyper-inflation and shortages of essential goods.

Maduro, the elected socialist heir to late President Hugo Chavez, has decried the demonstrations, branding them a "fascist" plot orchestrated by the United States to overthrow his government.

Hundreds of pro-and anti-government protesters took to the streets of the capital Caracas once more on Saturday.

Opposition supporters marched to rally against commodity shortages, crime and government censorship.

"They arrest protesting students but leave criminals and thugs free. We are isolated and voiceless," said retired engineer Elias Jorge.

Marta Perez, 50, added: "We are tired of not having enough food to eat, and criminals killing our children."

Supporters loyal to the ideology of "Chavismo" espoused by Maduro and his predecessor meanwhile marched to the presidential palace to rally against the environmental impact caused by the protests.

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