US official expresses concern over Venezuela

Venezuelan opposition leader and Governor of Miranda state Henrique Capriles speaks during an interview with Reuters in Caracas

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - General Motors announced Thursday amid Venezuela's ongoing protests that it was no longer doing business in the country after authorities seized its only factory in the South American nation.

Security forces deployed tear gas in a neighborhood on the capital city's west side, and a teenager shot in the head near an anti-government protest died while in surgery.

The court partly backtracked after an worldwide outcry, but the tension only increased when authorities slapped a political ban on opposition leader Henrique Capriles on April 7.

Capriles, who Deutsche Welle calls "the opposition's most promising candidate for the coming elections in 2018", was banned last week from holding office for 15 years - a move Capriles says he does not recognize.

Thousands of Venezuelans poured into the main streets of Caracas on Wednesday, with rival camps demonstrating support for and against President Nicolas Maduro and his socialist policies.

It's not the first time the Venezuelan government has seized a foreign corporation's facilities. There was no immediate reaction from Washington.

Across the country, the clashes have been intense.

Thousands of Venezuelans have taken to the streets since the Supreme Court stripped the National Assembly of its last vestiges of power almost three weeks ago, a decision it later reversed. The opposition says the government is courting violence by beating back peaceful protestors.

Despite having the world's largest proven oil reserves, Venezuela has suffered for several years from high inflation, rampant crime and a shortage of basic goods. In the tweet, Trump called for Venezuela to release its political prisoners. Journalists covering the protests reported suffering harassment at the hands of security forces and pro-government supporters, and a TV cable channel that reported on the protests was taken off the air.

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Protesters point to a moment a few weeks ago as proof of Maduro's ever-tightening grasp on the levers of power, when a Supreme Court loyal to the president attempted to nullify the opposition-dominated legislature.

But the government hasn't backed down.

Hours after the start of competing marches by the opposition as well as supporters of embattled President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's public ministry said it had launched an investigation into the shooting of a 17-year-old man who was struck in the head an hour into the march in Caracas.

Maduro says that beneath a peaceful facade, the protests are little more than opposition efforts to foment a coup to end socialism in Venezuela.

As tensions have mounted, the government has used its almost-complete control of Venezuela's institutions to pursue its opponents.

As well, a National Guard sergeant was killed by a sniper during "violent protests" in Miranda state and a colonel was injured, the human rights ombudsman Tarek Saab tweeted on Wednesday night. It was unclear how many people remained in custody.

He has also warned that an opposition government would slash social benefits like healthcare for the poor and subsidized food.

"The U.S. government, the State Department have given the green light, the approval for a coup process to intervene in Venezuela", said Maduro, citing a State Department communique issued Tuesday titled "Non-Violence and Accountability During Protests in Venezuela".

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters the United States was "concerned that the government of Maduro is violating its own constitution and is not allowing the opposition to have their voices heard, nor allowing them to organize in a way that expresses the views of the Venezuelan people".

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