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Protests, violence continue in Venezuela

By Radina Gigova, CNN
February 15, 2014 -- Updated 0332 GMT (1132 HKT)
Students clash with riot police in Caracas as they protest against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Students clash with riot police in Caracas as they protest against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Clashes continue in Venezuela
  • President Nicolas Maduro says he has a peace plan
  • Three people have been killed in Caracas violence

(CNN) -- Young Venezuelans unhappy with the ravaged economy, shortages and rising crime clashed again Friday with security forces who fired tear gas and water cannons.

Hundreds of anti-government protesters blocked traffic on a major highway in Caracas, days after three Caracas protesters died in violence.

The clashes, which have left dozens more injured or detained across the country, have exacerbated an already tense situation.

President Nicolas Maduro, in a nationally televised speech, announced Friday the launch of a "national plan for peace and coexistence."

Maduro said state and senior military officials will work together to reduce violence "from its bases," state media reported.

Authorities on Thursday issued an arrest warrant for an opposition leader on charges including conspiracy and murder in connection with recent clashes.

Leopoldo Lopez, head of Popular Will (known as VP after its initials in Spanish), remained free late Friday. He has accused the government of responsibility for violence during protests Wednesday.

"They won't divide us," Lopez tweeted Friday.

Maduro was elected in April after President Hugo Chavez's death from cancer. He has presided over a sharp decline in living standards and has failed to stem rising violent crime.

Maduro insists he is facing a slow-motion coup.

"I want to alert the world. We are facing a developing coup plan against the democracy and the government that I preside over, orchestrated by a small group of irresponsible leaders, violent, full of hatred and personal ambitions," he said Wednesday.

The U.S. State Department expressed concerns about the state of affairs in Venezuela.

"We are deeply concerned by rising tensions, by the violence surrounding this February 12 protest and by the issuing of a warrant for the arrest of the opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez," said spokeswoman Marie Harf. "We join the secretary general of OAS (Organization of American States) in condemning the violence and calling on authorities to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for the death of peaceful protesters."

Inflation, at 56.2%, is the highest in the world and many basic goods are missing from the shelves. Amid stringent price and exchange controls, Venezuela is running out of hard currency to pay foreign suppliers of goods and services.

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