Reuters International

Opposition supporters attend to a rally against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Veron

(reuters_tickers)

By Andrew Cawthorne and Diego Oré

CARACAS (Reuters) - A man was shot dead on Tuesday at a political demonstration in Venezuela's western state of Lara, bringing to 26 the number of deaths since protests against the socialist government began a month ago.

The state prosecutor's office said Orlando Medina, 23, died immediately from a gunshot to the head on a street in the town of El Tocuyo in the early hours during a protest.

In a month of chaos since Venezuela's opposition began protests against President Nicolas Maduro, 15 people have died in violence around demonstrations and 11 others in night-time lootings, the state prosecutor's office said.

Political activists and Venezuelan media have reported more deaths, but those have not been confirmed.

With near-daily demonstrations by both opponents and supporters of Maduro, there have been fatalities on both sides, as well as one National Guard sergeant killed during a protest.

The prosecutor's office did not specify the political allegiance of Tuesday's victim, though media in Lara said he was an opposition sympathizer.

"Any death hurts, government or opposition," chief state prosecutor Luisa Ortega said in a speech. He said that four fatalities were adolescents and 437 people had also been injured.

The ruling Socialist Party accuses foes of seeking a violent coup with U.S. connivance, while the opposition says Maduro is a dictator repressing peaceful protest.

The opposition's main demands are for elections, the release of jailed activists and autonomy for the opposition-led legislature. But protests are also fuelled by a crippling economic crisis in the oil-exporting nation of 30 million people.

The unrest is Venezuela's worst since 2014, when 43 people died in months of mayhem sparked again by protests against Maduro, the 54-year-old successor to late leader Hugo Chavez.

Nearly 1,500 people have been arrested, with 801 still detained as of Tuesday, rights group Penal Forum said.

Trying to keep the pressure on Maduro, the opposition Democratic Unity coalition is planning a march on Wednesday towards downtown Caracas. Past attempts to reach that area have been blocked by security forces using teargas and rubber bullets against masked youths hurling stones and Molotov cocktails.

Thousands of red-shirted Maduro supporters marched in the state of Falcon on Tuesday, chanting pro-government slogans and denouncing the opposition for violence.

"They call themselves defenders of human rights but then they murder people. They're the same as 2002," Socialist Party No. 2 Diosdado Cabello told the crowd, referring to a short-lived coup against Chavez that year.

(Additional reporting by Andreina Aponte and Corina Pons; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Frances Kerry and Grant McCool)

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