Published: Thursday, April 20, 2017 @ 9:37 AM
Updated: Thursday, April 20, 2017 @ 9:35 AM
Caracas — The latest on the protests and counter demonstrations in Venezuela (all times local):
The governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay are "energetically condemning" the violence in Venezuela and lamenting that international calls for the ongoing demonstrations to be peaceful have been ignored.
Argentina's foreign ministry released a statement saying the nine countries back the declaration by the United Nations secretary-general calling for "concrete measures to be adopted by all sides to reduce the polarization and create the conditions necessary to face the country's challenges for the benefit of the Venezuelan people."
It calls on Venezuelan authorities to respect rights and "retake the path of democratic institutionality," release political prisoners and set dates for elections, among other things.
A day after Venezuela seized a General Motors plant, President Nicolas Maduro has ordered an investigation into cellphone operator Movistar for allegedly being part of a "coup march" organized by adversaries of his socialist government.
Maduro says the subsidiary of Spain's Telefonica company "sent millions of messages to users every two hours" in support of Wednesday's big anti-government protests, which left at least three people dead.
A message from the president broadcast on television and radio stations Thursday said: "I denounce Movistar de Venezuela and have asked for an investigation because they have joined the calls for a coup in the country and that is not their function."
Maduro frequently accuses protesters and the opposition of plotting coups against him.
His government seized General Motors' assembly plant in Venezuela on Wednesday amid the protests demanding a new presidential election and calling for an end to the economic chaos that has produced shortages of food and medicine as well as soaring inflation.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is criticizing the Venezuelan government over the seizure of General Motors assembly plant in the South American nation.
The Florida Republican says the socialist administration of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has again shown "its lack of regard for the rule-of-law and the most basic democratic norms. "
In Rubio's words, "This latest action only confirms the ultimate goal of the Maduro regime to allow for a Cuban-style form of government, where human rights and property rights have no value."
He says U.S. and other foreign companies operating in Venezuela "should have no illusions about the risks of doing business under the current regime."
Tens of thousands of protesters have been on the streets of Venezuela's capital, but all eyes have focused on just one person — a young man who stripped down to his sneakers and walked naked through clouds of tear gas and lines of riot police.
A hush fell over a crowd of protesters who had shut down Caracas' main highway when the lanky young man approached. Wearing just sneakers and tube socks, he approached heavily armed police in gas masks. There, he asked officers to allow the protesters to assemble peacefully, and held out a Bible.
The man's back was marked with bruises from rubber bullets. At one point, he climbed onto an armored police vehicle and officers shouted for him to get down. But for the most part, he created a zone of calm amid another chaotic day of a now three-week-old protest movement. Police kept their distance, and protesters hushed when he passed.
Photos and videos of the man have flooded Venezuelan social media.
State Department Mark Toner says U.S. officials are reviewing the details of an almost 20-year-old lawsuit that led the Venezuelan government to seize a General Motors factory in the South American country.
The lawsuit was brought by a former GM dealership in western Venezuela. It was seeking damages from GM of 476 million bolivars — about $665 million at the official exchange rate, but just $115 million on the black market where many Venezuelans are forced to turn to sell their increasingly worthless currency.
GM has said it was notified this week that a low-level court ordered an embargo of its plant, bank accounts and other assets in the country.
Toner says the State Department calls on authorities "to ensure that this long-running civil case is resolved rapidly and transparently." He adds that "a fair, predictable and transparent judicial system" is critical to implementing judicial reforms.
Hundreds of workers desperate for information about their jobs gathered at the plant Thursday to meet with government and military officials, as well as representatives of the dealership that brought the lawsuit.
The Venezuelan government has had no comment about the GM factory.
Venezuelan Interior Minister Nestor Reverol is blaming an opposition party for the killing of a 23-year-old woman amid ongoing protests in the South American country.
Reverol said Thursday that Paola Ramirez was killed on Wednesday by a member of Vente Venezuela, a party led by high-profile opposition leader Maria Corina Machado.
Vente Venezuela did not immediately respond to the accusation. Machado said the government was trying to blame her party for the killing of a young woman that the administration itself was responsible for.
Ramirez was killed over the past day in the restive western border city of San Cristobal amid protests that also left two others dead — a teenage boy reportedly on his way to a soccer match with friends, and a National Guard officer whose unit was attacked.
The minister said a preliminary investigation suggests that the Vente Venezuela attack on Ramirez was planned in advance.
San Cristobal Mayor Patricia Gutierrez has said that Ramirez was shot to death by people who appeared to be government supporters.
The spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says that the organization is "concerned" about what's happening in Venezuela and urges that "all efforts be made to lower tensions and prevent further clashes."
A statement issued Thursday by spokesman Stephane Dujarric calls on the Venezuelan government and opposition to "engage sincerely to reactivate dialogue efforts, " especially on issues such as the balance of power among branches of government, the electoral calendar, human rights, truth and justice and the country's socio-economic situation."
Tens of thousands of people are pouring into the main thoroughfares of Caracas in the latest anti-government demonstration in the Venezuelan capital.
Just minutes after they started on Thursday, police deployed tear gas in an effort to slow their advance.
Amid a sea of Venezuelan flags the marchers shouted: "Who are we?"
"Venezuela!" came the reply.
"What do we want?" the marchers asked.
"Freedom!" they replied.
Wilfredo Coronel, a 42-year-old priest, held up a rosary in his right hand.
He accused the government of violating the people's right to live, food and free expression and "it's necessary that we recover those spaces.
The European Union is calling for an investigation into the deaths and other violence during anti-government demonstrations in Venezuela and for those responsible to be held accountable.
The EU's executive commission said Thursday that it was "saddened" by the deaths of two young people during Wednesday's protests. A third person, a National Guard sergeant, was killed and a colonel was injured when their squad was attacked with gunfire while trying to control disturbances in a city near Caracas.
Eight people have died so far in demonstrations over the past several weeks.
The European Commission says: "All concerned, including members of the security forces, have a responsibility to act in full compliance with the rule of law and human rights."
The bloc urged Venezuelans "to come together to de-escalate the situation and find democratic solutions."
General Motors has stopped doing business in Venezuela after authorities took control of its only factory there in what GM called an illegal judicial seizure of its assets.
The plant was confiscated on Wednesday as anti-government protesters clashed with authorities in a country that is roiling in economic troubles such as food shortages and triple-digit inflation.
The Detroit automaker said in a statement Thursday that other assets such as vehicles were taken from the plant, causing irreparable damage to the company.
GM says the plant was taken in disregard of its right to due process. The company says it will defend itself legally and that it's confident that justice eventually will prevail.
GM has about 2,700 workers in the troubled country, where it's been the market leader for over 35 years.
Authorities say a third person has died overnight in the ongoing protests in Venezuela.
The chief prosecutor's office reported Thursday that a National Guard sergeant was killed and a colonel injured when their squad was attacked with gunfire while trying to control disturbances in a city near Caracas.
The sergeant was the third person reported killed in the protests over the past day and the eighth person to die in demonstrations over the past several weeks. The other two people killed amid Wednesday's demonstrations included a teenager who was heading to a soccer match with friends. Both of those other two deaths were blamed on pro-government groups.
Venezuela's opposition is looking to keep up pressure on President Nicolas Maduro by taking to the streets again Thursday, a day after hundreds were arrested in the biggest anti-government demonstrations in years.