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Venezuela says street protests have caused $10 billion in damage

Anti-government protesters clash with riot police during a protest against Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas March 20, 2014. REUTERS/Ch
Anti-government protesters clash with riot police during a protest against Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas March 20, 2014. REUTERS/Ch

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's president said on Friday that street protests for the past month have caused at least $10 billion in damage, accusing hardline foes of carrying out terrorist acts to sabotage public assets.

President Nicolas Maduro did not say how the government arrived at that figure from the clashes between demonstrators barricading roads, pro-government radicals and security forces that have killed at least 31 people.

"The minority who want a coup have done so much damage to the country ... they burnt a public university where hundreds of young people studied," he said in a nationally televised speech.

"This isn't protest. It's vandalism. It's terrorism."

Maduro was referring to a military college affiliated with the Venezuelan armed forces that authorities say was torched by demonstrators in the western city of San Cristobal, near the border with Colombia.

San Cristobal has been harder hit by the violence than anywhere else since the protests began early last month. On Wednesday, intelligence agents arrested the city's opposition mayor and accused him of "civil rebellion."

The Supreme Court has ordered the mayors of several opposition-run municipalities to dismantle street barricades set up by protesters that have become flashpoints for clashes.

One opposition mayor from central Carabobo state was jailed for 10 months for failing to comply with a similar order.

The protesters say they want political change and an end to high inflation, shortages of basic foods such as milk and flour, and one of the highest rates of violent crime in the world.

Supporters of both camps plan to march in the capital Caracas on Saturday in the latest of daily rallies around the polarized country.

The protesters are demanding Maduro resign, while he says "fascists" want a coup like the one 12 years ago that briefly ousted his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.

(Reporting by Daniel Wallis and Deisy Buitrago; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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