CARACAS, Venezuela – In signs of a crackdown on protests that have paralyzed parts of Venezuela for three weeks, President Nicolas Maduro's government said Thursday that two mayors faced charges of neglecting their duties, and it issued an arrest warrant for a university rector.
The government actions came as two more people were killed in violence related to protests against the Maduro administration over crime, food shortages, a weak economy and human rights. The dead were identified as a member of the National Guard and a member of the pro-government militant groups known as colectivos.
They two died during a clash in the Los Ruices barrio when government supporters tried to remove a barricade erected by protesters. The member of the militant groups was identified as José Gregorio Amaris Castillo, 25. The National Guard member's name was not immediately released.
The clashes followed a tense two-hour standoff between residents of apartment buildings and the armed colectivos. Residents threw bottles at the militants to keep them from clearing the debris that blocked streets. As of Thursday afternoon, disturbances were still being reported in the area.
Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly, said the two victims were killed by a rooftop sniper and that those responsible would be brought to justice.
At least 20 people have died in the recent unrest, which began Feb 12.
Opposition mayors Gerardo Blyde and David Smolansky of the Caracas boroughs Baruta and El Hatillo are facing charges of "failing to fulfill their duties" of maintaining public order, government officials said. The mayors are accused of not clearing barricades that impeded traffic in their neighborhoods, thereby violating laws that guarantee free transit.
Authorities also searched the office and home of Pablo Aure, rector of the University of Carabobo, according to Globovision TV. Aure confirmed to news media that he was facing arrest on charges of inciting violence that occurred during student protests in Valencia. Eleven students have been arrested in Valencia in recent weeks. Meanwhile, 19 were reported arrested in Valencia in protests Wednesday.
On Wednesday, armed motorcycle-riding vigilantes set fire to the mayor's office in Merida, a university town in southwestern Venezuela that has seen intense protests against the government.
National Guard units also fired tear gas to disperse protesters in the affluent Chacao section of Caracas. The government used military tanks to clear barricades there. Residents reportedly threw bottles from apartment windows, provoking police and the National Guard to respond by firing rubber bullets.
Maduro called on supporters to help take down barricades erected by protesters in several parts of the city.
He said he wanted to remind "everyone of the words of commander Hugo Chavez: Fire that is lit can be stamped out by an organized community to guarantee the peace in our country."
Barricades were taken down in many parts of Caracas on Wednesday night and then rebuilt early Thursday, according to news accounts.
Power outages were reported in several parts of the city Thursday and many bus lines were shut down as a result of violence and blocked streets.