Millions heed anti-Maduro strike in Venezuela; Two young opposition demonstrators killed

A nationwide strike against plans to rewrite the constitution shut down much of Venezuelan's capital Thursday before erupting into sporadic violence that left at least two young men dead.

In Caracas, pro-opposition neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city were shuttered and silent until early afternoon, when improvised blockades left them almost entirely cut off from the rest of the city. 

The chief prosecutor's office said 23-year-old Andres Uzcategui was killed in a protest in the working-class neighborhood of La Isabelica in the central state of Carabobo and 24-year-old Ronney Eloy Tejera Soler was killed in the Los Teques neighborhood on Caracas' outskirts. The slaying drives the death toll over nearly months of protests to at least 95. 

A public transport strike appeared to have halted nearly all bus traffic and thousands of private businesses defied government demands to stay open during the first major national strike since a 2002 stoppage that failed to topple Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chavez. 

Opposition leaders said Thursday evening that 85 percent of the nation's workers had participated in the strike. 

In neighborhoods of western Caracas traditionally loyal to the ruling party, some stores were closed while foot and vehicle traffic were about half of what they would be on a normal weekday. In the rest of the city, residents commented that the streets were emptier than on a typical Sunday. 

The 24-hour strike was meant as an expression of national disapproval of Maduro's plan to convene a constitutional assembly that would reshape the Venezuelan political system to consolidate the ruling party's power over the few institutions that remain outside its control. The opposition is boycotting the July 30 election to select members of the assembly. 

"Definitively, we need a change," said teacher Katherina Alvarez. "The main objective is for people to see how dissatisfied people are." 

"We urgently need a change in government, because what we are living through is pathetic," said Frangeli Fernandez, 24, an accountant who, unable to find a bus or taxi, walked three hours to his job at a bank.

 

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