Paratroopers Deployed Against Venezuelan Protesters

Most serious charges dropped against opposition leader, but he still faces 10 years in prison

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Carlos Eduardo Ramirez / Reuters

Opposition supporters stand over a monument of a tank which they dragged into the middle of the street during a protest against Nicolas Maduro's government in San Cristobal, some 410 miles (660 km) southwest of Caracas February 19, 2014.

Venezuela’s government on Thursday sent paratroopers to San Cristobal to further strengthen its crackdown on the over two-week-long nationwide street protests.

Four people have died in street battles between protesters and police so far, the latest a 21-year old beauty queen who was shot in the head.

The government defend their deployment of the military on Thursday with claims that Colombians were crossing the border “to carry out paramilitary operations.” Meanwhile, regime-supporting paramilitary gangs known as colectivos have been seen swooping into neighborhoods and public squares on their motorbikes, firing live rounds at those gathered within.

Protesters claim that the country is suffering from a crippled economy, rampant street crime, corruption and poor job opportunities. The initially peaceful demonstrations soon descended into violence, however. President Maduro, who recently expelled two American diplomats, has accused the U.S. of “financing, promoting and defending members of the opposition that promote violence against our country,” and threatened to throw CNN out of the country, if its reporters did not “rectify their coverage.”

Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez surrendered to police on Tuesday, but even though the most serious charges against him has been dropped, he could face 10 years in prison for arson and conspiracy. Later on Tuesday, security personnel raided his political party’s headquarters in search of its number two, Carlos Vecchio.

Another opposition leader, Henrique Caprilas, has called for a new protest march on Saturday.