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Associated Press
A demonstrator joins a protest Wednesday in a plaza in Caracas, Venezuela, which has been roiled by anti-government rallies for a month.

Conflict grows bloody in Venezuela

1 killed, 16 hurt as authorities clear barricades

– National Guardsmen firing plastic shotgun pellets and tear gas wounded at least 16 people in a western Venezuelan city Wednesday as they cleared barricades that had been up for weeks, local officials said.

In Caracas, meanwhile, officials said a municipal worker was shot and killed while removing a street barricade in a middle-class neighborhood.

His death raised to 27 the official toll from more than a month’s worth of protests.

Pro-government Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodriguez through his Twitter account blamed unnamed “terrorists” for the killing but provided no other details.

Caracas and other Venezuelan cities have been roiled by more than a month of anti-government demonstrations.

Student-led protests that began in early February have drawn support from middle-class people frustrated by inflation that reached an annualized rate of 57 percent last month, soaring violent crime and shortages of basic items such as cooking oil and toilet paper.

About 365 people have been wounded in the demonstrations.

In the western town of Rubio, local officials and residents on Wednesday reported an intense effort by the National Guard to clear protesters’ barricades that had sealed off neighborhoods for weeks.

“The situation is terrible here,” Francisco Rincon, vice president of the Rubio municipal council, told the Associated Press.

Rincon, who is a member of the opposition Popular Will party, said their supporters had protested peacefully in the morning before being dispersed by tear gas and plastic buckshot by National Guardsmen and pro-government civilians.

Venezuelan opposition lawmaker Maria Corina Machado is expected to speak Friday at a meeting of the Organization of American States in Washington about the situation in Venezuela. Because the Venezuelan government controls the country’s seat on the organization, Panama has offered Machado its seat from which to make her presentation.

The Venezuelan National Assembly voted Tuesday to begin a process that could strip Machado of her immunity, accusing her of civil disobedience and trying to destabilize the government.

“It’s fundamental that the world understand what’s happening in our country,” she said of her upcoming address.

The OAS this month approved a declaration supporting President Nicolas Maduro’s efforts to start a dialogue with the political opposition.

Panama, the United States and Canada voted against it.

Also Wednesday, petroleum workers representative Marla Munoz said the offices of the oil and mining ministry and state-owned oil company were simultaneously attacked that morning with Molotov cocktails in the state of Barinas, southwest of Caracas.

She said the attack was apparently aimed at scaring oil workers into withdrawing their support of the government.

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