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South America

Once an ally, Venezuela's famed conductor Dudamel turns on government

The musical director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic has called on the government to "rectify and listen" to protesters on the streets. His scathing remarks marked a turning point for former allies of the government.

Venezuela's famed conductor Gustavo Dudamel on Thursday lashed out at the government's violent repression of mass protests in the capital after a 17-year-old musician was killed at an anti-government rally.

"I urgently call on the President of the Republic and the national government to rectify and listen to the voice of the Venezuelan people," Dudamel said in a statement posted on his Facebook page.

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Violent clashes gripping Venezuelan capital

The 17-year-old Armando Canizalel, who was killed at the demonstration was a viola player and member of the government-financed "El Sistema" musical education program that brought Dudamel to fame.

The "El Sistema" program, originally created four decades ago, connects poor Venezuelan children with classical music. Dudamel, who serves as the musical director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, has often toured with "El Sistema" youth orchestras.

"Times cannot be defined by the blood of our people. We owe our youth a hopeful world, a country where we can walk freely in dissent," Dudamel added. "It is time to listen to the people: enough is enough."

Ally turned critic

Dudamel had previously come under criticism from fellow Venezuelan music performers for having a cozy relationship with President Nicolas Maduro and failing to denounce his dictatorial behavior.

In 2014, the composed conducted a commemorative concert in central Caracas, blocks away from deadly anti-government protests. Days after the clashes, in which a student was killed, he appeared alongside Maduro for a meeting on the construction of a new concert hall.

However, Dudamel's latest remarks appear to show a shift from the prolific conductor. Since releasing his statement condemning the violence, opposition leaders have lauded Dudamel's move.

Growing protests

Venezuela has been rocked by deadly protests since the Supreme Court attempted to strip the opposition-held Congress of legislative power. At least 36 people have been killed since the unrest began in late March.

The protests have brought together thousands of Venezuelans against Maduro's government. Many have been angered by the president's increasingly dictatorial measures, while others have participated in the protests to vent frustration over crippling shortages of food, medicine and other basic goods.

On Monday, Maduro announced plans to establish a new constituent assembly tasked with rewriting the constitution, a move that has further exacerbated tensions on the ground.

ls/bw (Reuters, AP)

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