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Venezuela was roiled by a fifth straight day of protests Monday as opposition demonstrators and government security forces clashed in the capital of Caracas and other cities.
The violence in the streets seemed to intensify. Video showed tear gas canisters thrown from helicopters to deter protesters and even a hospital was tear-gassed.
“We went into the streets to protest measures taken by the government against our own constitution and our own democracy. But this time repression was worse than before,” Juan Mejía, an opposition lawmaker for the Voluntad Popular Party, told NBC News.
Protesters charge that government security forces tear-gassed a hospital in eastern Caracas. Video showed an active tear gas canister inside the grounds of hospital Policlinica Las Mercedes.
Daniel Beleli, a doctor who works at the hospital, can be seen bringing one tear gas canister up to the camera in one video. He says critically ill patients were inside the operating rooms when the gassing began and staff had to turn the air conditioners off to keep them from inhaling it.
A one-month-old baby had to be taken from the hospital and treated for asphyxiation, as reported by opposition figure Henrique Capriles.
Chaos of this scale has not been seen in the streets of Venezuela in nearly three years.
Tarek Saab, a politician traditionally aligned with the government, took to Twitter to reject “objects, tear gas being thrown from choppers to disperse protesters."
Protesters were driven to the streets by a shortage of basic goods and some of the highest inflation in the world, as well as the government's move to strip the democratically-elected National Assembly of its power — a move President Nicolas Maduro later reversed. Many protesters held banners that read: “No more dictatorship.”
Protesters are fighting back after an apparent crackdown on opposition leaders. One of the country's main opposition figures, Leopoldo Lopez, has been in prison for more than three years.
Another major opposition figure, Henrique Capriles, the current Governor of Miranda — the most populous state — was banned from office for 15 years this week. The U.S. State Department on Monday night stated its concern over the barring of Capriles, saying Maduro “must stop silencing opposition voices."
The country’s vice president, Tareck El Aissami, who has been sanctioned by the U.S. for links to drug trafficking, retweeted an image of supposed home-made explosives used by protesters.
According to Venezuela’s Justice Minister, Nestor Reverol, 18 people were arrested Monday in Caracas for “generating chaos, causing harm and altering peace.”
According to the NGO Foro Penal Venezolano, 188 people were arrested during the protests that took place between April 4 and April 8. Fifty-seven demonstrators are still behind bars, according to the group.
Opposition protesters showed no signs of backing down, with another rally planned for Tuesday.