Tillerson: US concerned Venezuela not allowing opposition to be heard

Venezuelan opposition leader and Governor of Miranda state Henrique Capriles speaks during an interview with Reuters in Caracas

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the USA is "concerned that the government of Maduro is violating its own constitution and is not allowing the opposition to ... organize in a way that expresses the views of the Venezuelan people".

Right-wing leaders had called today's demonstration in hopes of toppling the Bolivarian government but failed when pro-government forces also came out in defense of the country's sovereignty. Thousands of people clashed with soldiers and riot police in the capital, with protesters building barricades and throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at security forces.

The two killings bring to seven the death toll since protests began three weeks ago over the Supreme Court's decision to strip the opposition-controlled congress of its last remaining powers, a move that was later reversed but not before enraging the opposition and causing a storm of global criticism.

Brian Ellsworth of Reuters, speaking to us by Skype from Caracas, said tensions have been building.

The statement calls for both sides to remain peaceful and said the United States joins 11 other nations in the region in urging Maduro's government to take immediate steps toward "a prompt solution to the grave crisis affecting all Venezuelans".

Clashes, which left two students shot dead, were reported across the country during the most sustained protests since 2014.

The opposition is demanding a timeline for delayed elections, a halt a security crackdown on protests, and respect for the autonomy of the opposition-led legislature.

There has been reports of violent clashes between protesters, government supporters and police.

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President Nicolas Maduro may be struggling to feed Venezuela but his socialist administration still managed to make a $500,000 donation to Donald Trump's inauguration.

The announcement comes as Maduro's opponents are gearing up for what they pledge will be the largest rally yet to press for elections and a host of other demands Wednesday. "In Venezuela, there is no peace, no justice", he said.

The 17-year-old boy was shot by gunmen on motorbikes who also threw tear gas canisters into a crowd of protesters, Amadeo Leiva, head of the Clinicas Caracas Hospital which treated him, told AFP. Private enterprise has a really hard time producing goods and services, which means we basically don't have them.

"The hour of combat has arrived", Maduro said.

Demonstrators are converging from 26 different points spread across the capital to attempt to march downtown to the Ombudsman's office. Before today's demonstration, President Nicolás Maduro - invoking his "defending peace" slogan - accused the opposition of engaging in "violence, conspiracy, [a] coup d'etat, and interventionism". "I know it'll help us get rid of this government", Hector Trejo told NBC News.

Wednesday's mass protest fell on a significant date for Venezuelans: On April 19, 1810, Venezuelans began their quest for independence from Spain.

Capriles, who Deutsche Welle calls "the opposition's most promising candidate for the coming elections in 2018", was banned last week from holding office for 15 years - a move Capriles says he does not recognize.

Maduro continues to delay overdue presidential elections after losing his majority in parliament in 2015.

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