Two gunned down as clash breaks out over street blockade in Venezuelan capital

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A National Guardsmen and a civilian were killed after a group of men on motorcycles rode into an eastern district of the Venezuelan capital Caracas to remove a street barricade erected by anti-government protesters.

Yesterday’s clash in the mixed industrial and residential area of Los Ruices heightened tensions on the same day that the government expelled foreign diplomats for the second time in a month.

More than 100 men on motorcycles carrying pipes and rocks swarmed into Los Ruice, with some trying to force their way into buildings.

Residents screamed “murderers, murderers” from rooftops and the motorcyclists taunted them from below, urging them to come down and fight.

In other districts, motorcyclists dismantled barricades under the whistles and shouts of residents, but without violence.

Venezuelans fed up with food shortages and violence have been staging nearly daily street protests since mid-February, halting traffic with barricades of rubbish, furniture and burning tyres.

At least 21 people have been killed in related violence, by the government’s count, in the country’s worst unrest in years. President Nicolas Maduro’s administration shows no signs of crumbling, but the country appears to be in a stalemate.

Protesters are mostly from the middle and upper classes, although they do include poorer Venezuelans who do not protest in their home districts for fear of pro-government paramilitaries.

Mayor Carlos Ocariz said a 24-year-old motorcycle taxi driver was shot dead during the melee in Los Ruice. When National Guardsmen arrived to secure the area, a 25-year-old sergeant was shot through the neck and killed.