The death toll from protests in Venezuela that have quickly become the nation’s most violent in a decade reached 13 on Monday, as emboldened opposition groups opted out of government talks that were billed as a “national dialogue.”
About 150 have been injured during upheaval, Reuters reports. Opposition leaders have said they won’t stop until the government meets their demands.
“This is a dying government. … I’m not going to be like the orchestra on the Titanic,” Henrique Capriles, a local opposition leader, said Monday. “[The presidential palace] is not the place to talk about peace, it’s the center of operations for abuses of human rights.”
Capriles, who lost a bid for president in 2013, also said he wouldn’t attend talks while another opposition leader is in jail because of the upheaval. An estimated 529 people have been charged as a result of the protests, but only about 45 are behind bars, Reuters reports.
The jailed opposition leader Leopold Lopez organized the first marches on Feb. 12 as demonstrations against the nation’s crime and shortages of basic goods. The protests turned violent as a result of clashes with police, though leaders have urged demonstrators to help quell the violence without giving up the fight.
Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro says the opposition is part of a U.S.-backed coup, accusing them of inviting “mercenaries” who have increased the violence. While opposition leaders are calling for the government to address their issues, some student groups want the president, who has been in power for 10 months, to step down.
The Obama administration has condemned the violence. “The Venezuelan government has confronted peaceful protesters with force and in some cases with armed vigilantes claiming to support the government,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. “This is not how democracies behave.”