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US rallies UN as Venezuela deploys troops in unrest

AFP Thursday, May 18, 2017 223 reads

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Doctors chant slogans in front of a line of National Guard personnel in riot gear during a demonstration against the shortage in medicines and in rejection of the government of President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas on May 17, 2017

Venezuela's government said Wednesday it was sending troops to a region rocked by violence during anti-government protests, as Washington rallied the UN Security Council to prevent conflict in the country.

The death of a 15-year-old boy brought the toll from weeks of protests in Venezuela to 43 -- a sad milestone that matched the number killed in the last comparable wave of unrest, in 2014.

Looting and attacks against security installations erupted overnight in the state of Tachira, which borders Colombia, authorities said. The state prosecution service said on Twitter the boy was killed "during a demonstration" there.

"I have ordered the transfer of 2,000 guards and 600 special operations troops" to Tachira, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said on state television channel VTV.

- Conflict risk alarms the US -

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AFP / Anella RETA, Gustavo IZUSVictims of the protests in Venezuela

The United States warned at the United Nations that Venezuela's crisis was worsening and could escalate into a civil conflict like that of Syria.

Following Security Council talks, US Ambassador Nikki Haley called for countries to send a message to Maduro.

"We've been down this road -- with Syria, with North Korea, with South Sudan, with Burundi, with Burma," she told reporters.

"The international community needs to say 'respect the human rights of your people' or this is going to go in the direction we've seen so many others go."

She earlier warned that Venezuela was "on the verge of humanitarian crisis."

Brazil's Defense Minister Raul Jungmann told reporters Wednesday his country was making contingency plans for a possible influx of Venezuelan migrants.

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AFP / George CastellanosView inside a looted shop in San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela, on May 17, 2017

Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, however, said on Twitter that the United States was out to topple the Venezuelan government.

"The United States has shed light on the plan it is leading to intervene in Venezuela," she said. "Other countries (at UN headquarters) put it loudly and clearly: Venezuela is no matter for the UN to address."

- Looting -

Authorities said in a report on Wednesday that in Tachira some 20 shops, restaurants, and a school were looted, two police stations set on fire and a military outpost attacked with firebombs over the previous night.

One military commander was hurt, it said.

Fernanda Carvalho, 53, told AFP virtually all the food was stolen from her bakery in San Cristobal.

"It felt like my world was falling in. There go years of work and investment," she said.

- 'Another Syria'? -

Clashes have erupted across the country during protests in anger at Maduro's handling of an economic and political crisis.

The unrest has left 43 people dead since April 1, prosecutors say.

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AFP / JUAN BARRETOOpposition activists protest against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas on May 17, 2017

Protesters blame Maduro for an economic crisis that has caused shortages of food and medicine. They are demanding early elections and accuse him of trying to cling to power.

Elected in 2013, Maduro has accused the opposition of plotting a coup against him with US backing.

At the United Nations, Venezuela repeated its rejection of what it considers foreign meddling in its affairs.

"Venezuela will resolve its own internal problems," Ambassador Rafael Ramirez told reporters after the meeting. "We will not accept interference."

Padrino accused the opposition of trying to start a civil war and wanting "to turn Venezuela into another Syria."

"We will not let the homeland fall into chaos," he said.

- Street protests -

The government and the opposition have accused each other of sending armed groups to sow violence in the protests.

Police have fired tear gas and protesters have hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails in near-daily clashes.

Analysts say street protests are one of the few means the opposition has left to pressure Maduro.

Doctors and nurses in white overalls demonstrated in Caracas on Wednesday to denounce a crisis that has left hospitals desperately undersupplied.

"We don't want weapons! We want medicine!" they yelled.

Maduro fired health minister Antonieta Caporale last week after her ministry released figures showing infant deaths soared 30 percent last year.

Opposition groups planned two further rallies later on Wednesday evening.

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