New round of protests shakes Venezuela as public services fail

CARACAS (Reuters) - A new round of protests has started to sweep across Venezuela as discontent intensifies in the country's near-abandoned interior due to worsening fuel shortages and the constant failure of public services, a local non-governmental organization said on Tuesday.

According to reports received by the Caracas-based Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict, over 100 protests have taken place since the weekend in 19 of Venezuela's 23 states to demand authorities provide water, power and fuel.

The OPEC nation's collapsed oil industry is no longer able to supply Venezuelans with fuel for their cars, and years of mismanagement and corruption have left much of the infrastructure bringing power and water to homes in ruins.

A strict COVID-19 lockdown enforced by President Nicolas Maduro since March has further limited Venezuelans' movement and sources of income.

In the past, Caracas was the center of Venezuela's protest movements, but the government has prioritized fuel deliveries to gas stations in the capital, keeping its streets mostly calm.

In the rest of the country, Venezuelans spend days queueing for gasoline that often never arrives.

"We're looking at a new wave of protests with the particularity that this time the protagonists are those living in Venezuela's villages and towns," Marco Ponce, the observatory's director, told an online press conference.

The Maduro administration has sent in security forces to repress the demonstrations, leading to at least 50 arrests, Ponce said.

Venezuela's police and military have been accused by the United Nations of carrying out widespread human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings.

Venezuela's information ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the observatory's report.

Starved of gasoline and crippled by U.S. sanctions, the Maduro government has turned to its ally Iran for help obtaining petroleum products. On Monday, the first of a group of three tankers arrived to deliver more Iranian fuel.

Ponce said this could temporarily quieten some demonstrations, but he expected they would continue as "there are thousands of reasons for Venezuelans to keep protesting."

An estimated five million Venezuelans have left the country in recent years - roughly a sixth of the population - as hyperinflation made food and medicine unaffordable, in the biggest migration in Latin America's modern history.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera; Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Richard Chang)