International: Tear gas, flames and 35 dead as Venezuela crisis flares

Thousands of protesters were met with plumes of tear gas in Venezuela's capital Wednesday, just a short distance from where President Nicolas Maduro delivered a decree kicking off a process to rewrite the polarized nation's constitution.

The death toll now stands at 35 since the unrests began.

Surrounded by top-ranking socialist officials, a riled-up Maduro told supporters dressed in red outside the National Electoral Council that the constitutional assembly was needed to instil peace against a violent opposition.

"I see congress shaking in its boots before a constitutional convention," he said, referring to the opposition-controlled legislature, after dancing alongside the older brother of the late President Hugo Chavez.
Nearby, national guardsmen launched tear gas at demonstrators who tried to march toward the National Assembly.

The confrontation grew increasingly violent, with anti-government protesters setting an officer's motorbike on fire. At another point, an armored vehicle set aflame pushed into a crowd of demonstrators.

Freddy Guevara, the legislature's first vice president, was whisked away by fellow protesters after apparently being struck in the foot by a tear gas canister. He later emerged with white bandages wrapped around the wound, vowing to stay in the streets until the opposition triumphs.

"An injury from your dictatorship is a medal of honor," he tweeted to Maduro.

The latest push by Maduro to settle the political crisis comes as the Trump administration warns it might impose more sanctions on Venezuelan officials and members of the U.S. Congress are pushing the administration to act more forcefully to rein in Maduro.

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation providing humanitarian assistance to Venezuela while toughening sanctions against corrupt officials. The legislation also would instruct the intelligence community to prepare a partly unclassified report on Venezuelan government officials' involvement in corruption and drug trafficking.

Five people have been killed in Venezuela's unrest since late Monday. Two died when the bus they were traveling in flipped as it tried to avoid a barricade set up by protesters, according to opposition activists who live near the accident site in Carabobo state. A third person was killed during looting at a shop in the industrial city of Valencia and a motorcyclist died after being struck by a car trying to swerve away from a protest, the chief prosecutor's office said.

On Wednesday, Armando Canizales, 17, was killed after being struck in the neck at a protest in a city east of Caracas. Video shows the young man in jeans and a black jacket being rushed by two men on a motorcycle to an ambulance as friends cried, "No, Armando!"