Venezuela political tensions rise amid protests, clashes

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Violence has broken out between police and anti-government protesters as both supporters and opponents of Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela\’s president, staged duelling rallies in the capital Caracas.
Protesters hurled stones and police officers fired tear gas in the latest wave of demonstrations that have so far left three people dead.
President Maduro responded Saturday to ongoing opposition protests with a counter-demonstration by thousands of his supporters.
President Maduro used the pro-government rally in Caracas to denounce opposition leader Leopoldo López. 
Police have issued an arrest warrant for López for organizing anti-government protests Wednesday that led turned violent. Three people were killed, including two opposition protesters.
Maduro called López a "fascist" and a "coward" Saturday and urged him to turn himself in.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says Lopez\’s arrest warrant has a chilling effect on the rights of Venezuelan citizens to peacefully express their grievances.
In a statement, he said the Venezuelan government is obliged to protect the fundamental freedoms and safety of its citizens.
Venezuelan forces used tear gas and water cannons against hundreds of student protesters Friday, angry at  Maduro for soaring inflation, shortages in supermarkets, and rampant crime. 
Nearly 100 people have been arrested in the past week of protests.
Despite having oil wealth, Venezuela has severe economic problems and a deep divide between rich and poor.
Venezuelan politics has become increasingly polarised.
Maduro was elected last April by a narrow margin, defeating the centre-right candidate, Henrique Capriles, who denounced electoral fraud.
A former union leader, Maduro was a close ally of President Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer last March after 14 years in office.
Source: VOA and agencies

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