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Venezuela police beat journalists, anti-Maduro protesters

Police have turned back protesters marching toward Venezuela's embattled supreme court. The opposition has called a new strike against the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

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Venezuela Violence

In the lead-up to Saturday's protests, organizers had expressed optimism that the demonstrations would send a message to President Nicolas Maduro ahead of the July 30 elections for delegates to a constitutional assembly that would overhaul Venezuela's charter

But, with armored cars and riot shields, security forces  blocked the protesters' way to the Supreme Court, and clashes ensued for several hours as hundreds of masked youths used stones and Molotov cocktails against National Guard troops who fired tear gas from motorbikes.

Squinting, rubbing his eyes against the fumes, lawmaker Jose Manuel Olivares called the gas in Caracas "unnecessary."

Police violence documented

The Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition and a resistance movement launched protests in April, accusing Maduro of turning Venezuela into a dictatorship. The president says demonstrators seek a coup. Police have arrested more than 4,000 people, and thousands more have been injured.

Since April, more than a hundred people have died in the unrest, including five during a 24-hour national strike on Thursday. A two-day strike has been announced for the coming week.

In documented police violence on Saturday, the photojournalist Luis Diaz was "savagely beaten by the GNB, which confiscated his camera and memory card with photographic material," the country's press union reported, using the Spanish initialism for the Bolivarian National Guard, the state security agency.

The Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Prensa de Venezuela posted an image to Twitter on Saturday to show the two broken ribs that the journalist had received at police hands. The SNTP also reported that four other journalists had been shot with buckshot by officers.

A locally famed violinist was also injured, news agencies reported.

Vote approaches

Venezuela's opposition has escalated street tactics to try to block the supercongress that President Maduro wants to set up following next weekend's elections.

The opposition plans to boycott the vote, with representatives calling it a sham intended to guarantee a majority for the unpopular Maduro. Protesters seek elections to end the president's rule, threatening to shut Venezuela down if necessary to block next Sunday's vote, which could disband the opposition-led legislature.

"We will stay in the streets," lawmaker Richard Blanco told protesters before Saturday's march.

Foreign pressure has grown on Maduro to abort the vote. US President Donald Trump has threatened to apply economic sanctions. But Maduro's government has shown no sign of backing down - and even announced that it would put 232,000 soldiers on the streets to ensure that the vote for the constituent assembly goes ahead in a week's time.

mkg/jm (EFE, Reuters, AFP, AP)

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