World

Venezuelan rights group says 4 dead in clashes amid opposition call for uprising

A Venezuelan human rights group says at least four people died in two days of protests after opposition leader Juan Guaido called for a military uprising.

Top court orders arrest of Guaido mentor Leopoldo Lopez, staying at Spanish Embassy

According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict, four people died in street clashes this week. (Manaure Quintero/Reuters)

A Venezuelan human rights group says at least four people died in two days of protests after opposition leader Juan Guaido called for a military uprising.

The Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict says the dead from the unrest on Tuesday and Wednesday include two people who were shot in the city of La Victoria and two others hit by gunfire in Caracas, the capital.

Human rights activists say at least 230 people were injured and 205 were detained during the clashes between protesters and police.

On Thursday, Venezuela's top court issued an arrest warrant for Leopoldo Lopez, the opposition activist who took refuge in the Spanish Embassy after joining the effort to oust President Nicolas Maduro. 

The Supreme Tribunal of Justice instructed police to detain Lopez for violating terms of his house arrest.

Lopez appeared Tuesday outside a military base in Caracas with Guaido, who urged the military to overthrow Maduro. When the military did not heed the call, Lopez and his family sought refuge in the Chilean ambassador's residence. They later moved to the Spanish Embassy.

Anti-government protesters were out in smaller numbers Thursday. (Martin Mejia/Associated Press)

U.S. President Donald Trump said the "brutal repression" of the Venezuelan people by Maduro must end, and it must end soon.

Trump, speaking Thursday at the White House as part of a National Day of Prayer ceremony, said the Venezuelan people are starving and have no water.

"We wish them well," he said.

He began the event by saying he was sending prayers to the people of Venezuela in their "righteous struggle for freedom."

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, left, and Leopoldo Lopez address a crowd of supporters in Caracas Tuesday. (Manaure Quintero/Reuters)

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland will attend an emergency meeting of the The Lima Group — made up of mostly Latin American countries and Canada — in the Peruvian capital tomorrow. 

"Over the past few days, the Venezuelan people have once again shown their strength, courage and determination, calling for the end of the Maduro dictatorship and a return to democracy," Freeland said in a statement that also reiterated Canada's support for Guaido. 

The group was formed in 2017 in an effort to apply international pressure on the Maduro regime. 

Show of unity 

In a national TV appearance Thursday, Maduro called for military unity two days after security forces failed to respond to Guaido's call for an uprising.

Flanked by army commanders, Maduro said the military must be prepared to combat "traitors" and that the opposition had sought to provoke bloodshed in Caracas since Guaido's failed bid to take power in January.

Guaido, backed by a small contingent of security forces, called for the military to turn against Maduro on Tuesday. But police dispersed the crowds in clashes that raged for hours.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on national television Thursday that the military must be prepared to combat 'traitors.' (Miraflores Palace Handout via Reuters)

Thousands of Venezuelans heeded the opposition's call to fill streets around the nation a day later, but the streets of Caracas were calm on Thursday.

The Spanish government says it will not turn over Lopez to Venezuelan authorities and trusts Venezuela will respect the inviolability of the residence. 

Lopez was previously detained for leading anti-government protests in 2014 and had been under house arrest for two years.

U.S. officials have said the military high command was in discussions with the Supreme Court and representatives of Guaido over Maduro's exit, which would involve guarantees that members of the armed forces could keep their jobs in a transition government.

Elliott Abrams, the U.S. special envoy for Venezuela, said Maduro cannot trust his top military leaders. "Even when they say, 'I am totally loyal, Mr. President,' he cannot count on that," Abrams told broadcaster VPI on Wednesday.

"Almost everyone was involved with that, and so Maduro has to know that the high command is not truly loyal and they want a change."

'Quite surreal'

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov characterized a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the ongoing crisis as having elements of the surreal.

Lavrov made his comments Thursday in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent, a day after he spoke with Pompeo about protests against Maduro.

"Pompeo phoned, called for us to refuse to support Maduro, called for Cuba and us not to interfere in the internal affairs of Venezuela. The whole story sounds quite surreal," Lavrov said.

"If you count up all that official representatives of the American administration say about Venezuela, then you can pose questions endlessly and to all these questions the answer will be, to put it diplomatically: it's untrue," he said.

Pompeo claimed earlier that Maduro was ready to flee the South American country, but that unspecified Russians persuaded him to stay.

Lavrov and Pompeo will resume the as-yet unproductive discussion on Venezuela when they are both in Finland next week for an Arctic Council meeting, according to a senior State Department official. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.

With files from Reuters and CBC News

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