The killing of a 14-year-old boy by a policeman during an anti-government protest is raising already high tensions in Venezuela amid a crackdown on the opposition and crippling economic problems.
Protesters hurling rocks clashed with police backed by armoured vehicles late into the night yesterday, and the country was braced for further demonstrations today after the student, identified as Kluiverth Roa, was shot in the head and killed during a confrontation in San Cristobal, the capital of a restive western state.
Police officer Javier Mora Ortiz, 23, confessed to firing on the boy with plastic ammunition, officials said.
A photo and video of the student lying in a pool of blood, his backpack hanging over his shoulder, as a man frantically tries to staunch the bleeding and others scream and clutch their heads in horror rocketed around social media. Mourners were gathering in San Cristobal for the funeral, expected to take place afternoon.
Ruling party officials, including President Nicolas Maduro, condemned the killing with rare speed and forcefulness.
But as Mr Maduro spoke, many residents of the university town near the Colombian border leaned out their windows to bang pots and pans in a cacophonous protest that lasted two hours.
Shops closed their doors and public transportation halted as protesters set up flaming barricades on main thoroughfares.
Buses began running again this morning, but schools remained closed.
Mr Maduro said in a nationally televised address that masked protesters had used rocks to attack police who sought to quell the demonstration. He called on young people to resist instigating such confrontations, but also condemned the killing.
"I want to offer my condolences to the parents of this young man who was murdered in an act of violence," he said.
Venezuelan ombudsman Tarek William Saab, a federal official charged with defending human rights, said on Twitter that he deplored the "vile assassination" of the teenager, who he named as Kluiverth Roa, though other officials spelled his first name differently.
Last month, the government issued a policy change to allow law enforcement officials to open fire and use deadly force to control protests. At the time, human rights groups said the new regulation was dangerously vague, but Mr Saab defended it. Attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz said the state would investigate whether the new policy had played a part in the boy's death.
Tensions were already running high following of a slew of bad economic news and the arrest last week of the opposition mayor of Caracas.
February marks the one year anniversary of massive street protests that choked neighbourhoods around Venezuela and left more than 40 people dead. That wave of protests also started in San Cristobal.
This week, lawmakers began the process of removing Julio Borges from the congress. He is one of several high-profile opposition leaders recently accused of plotting to overthrow the government, and could be prosecuted if he loses his seat, and thus his legislative immunity.
Growing dissatisfaction has driven Mr Maduro's approval ratings down to just above 20%.
In San Cristobal, residents vented their outrage last night.
"How are you going shoot point blank at a student who's just leaving school to go home?" asked Glenda Lugo. "We're tired of this injustice."