Venezuela's government and the opposition traded accusations on Thursday after at least three people were shot dead in the worst unrest since protests last year that followed President Nicolas Maduro's narrow election victory.
Almost a year after the death of socialist leader Hugo Chavez, the bloodshed on Wednesday was the latest demonstration of the OPEC nation's deep polarization and the mutual mistrust between both political camps.
Three people were shot dead after pro- and anti-government marches in Caracas. Maduro said another person was in critical condition, and he blamed "small fascist groups" that he said infiltrated the opposition protest.
"They want to topple the government through violence," Maduro said on state television. "They have no ethics, no morals ... We will not permit any more attacks."
A government official said 23 people were injured, 25 arrested, four police vehicles torched and some government offices vandalized. Some opposition protesters, many with their faces covered, threw stones and burned tires in the streets.
Using the slogan "The Exit," meaning Maduro's departure from power, hard-line opposition groups have been holding mostly small protests around the country for the last two weeks, complaining about crime, corruption and the fast-rising cost of living.
Leopoldo Lopez, an opposition leader who has called on his supporters to take to the streets, said the government planned the bloodshed to try to discredit his peaceful movement.
Local media said on Thursday a judge had issued an arrest warrant for him on charges ranging from instigating crime to murder and terrorism, though that could not be confirmed.
Lopez's aides said on Thursday he was preparing a response to the reported arrest warrant, and would not give his whereabouts. He lives in a wealthy district of Caracas.
The protests have exposed differences within the opposition's leadership, with some favoring a more moderate approach and saying marches which turn violent only play into the government's hands as it accuses them of being "saboteurs."