Police block march of elderly Venezuelans

President Nicolas Maduro has abruptly dismissed Venezuela's health minister days after the government broke a almost two-year silence on data which showed the country's medical crisis significantly worsening. Some demonstrators are pushing against the officers' plastic shields, only to be forced back.

Since launching protests against Maduro in early April, Venezuela's opposition has sought to vary tactics by staging silent and candle-lit marches, for instance, and rallies for women, musicians and medics. Numerous elderly marchers said it made them angry to see a once prosperous nation devolve into a country with triple-digit inflation, shortages of basic necessities like food and medicine and one of the world's highest homicide rates.

The Health ministry said deaths of infants under the age of one soared by 30% in 2016, a year when hospitals and protesters complained of severe shortages of medical supplies. Maduro said in a speech late on Thursday, blaming opposition "snipers" for the latest deaths around protests this week.While the opposition believes it has more momentum than at any other time during Maduro's four-year presidency, officials appear to be banking on protesters tiring in the streets and are also hoping for rise in oil prices to ease the economic crisis. The deaths were caused by hemorrhages, high blood pressure and infections.

In announcing the Cabinet change late on Thursday night, Vice President Tareck El Aissami did not provide reasons for the minister's ouster.

Cases of malaria also rose by 76 percent to more than 240,000, even though the disease was said to have been eradicated in Venezuela. Most of those killed in protests and overnight looting have been young men in their 20s and 30s.

Maduro is vowing to resolve the conflict by convening a special assembly to rewrite the nation's constitution, a proposition that has only further infuriated the opposition.

Protesters were trying to make their way to the office of the national ombudsman, whose job is to stand up for citizens' rights but who the opposition has tagged the "defender of the dictator".

In fresh troubles on Wednesday, police fired tear gas and water cannon at protesters who tried to march to the Supreme Court in Caracas.

"Anyone who is captured attacking military bases will go where they have to go: to justice", Maduro said, while again denouncing the opposition demonstrations.

Scores of government supporters also gathered in Caracas near Miraflores palace, wearing red, punching their fists in the air and chanting pro-Maduro slogans.

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