At least 40 people are believed to have been killed and some 850 detained amid anti-government protests in Venezuela over the past week, according to the United Nations human rights office.
Twenty-six people were allegedly shot dead by security forces and armed groups loyal to embattled President Nicolas Maduro, UN spokesperson Rupert Colville said.
Five were killed in illegal house raids carried out by security forces in poor neighbourhoods, usually in the hours following protests, Colville said, while 11 were killed during looting.
Seventy-seven children were detained, including some as young as 12 years old, between Jan. 21 and Jan. 26.
Some 696 people were detained on Jan. 23 — the biggest day of anti-Maduro demonstrations, alone.
Human Rights Watch says Venezuelan security forces also allegedly attacked and arrested journalists covering the Jan. 23 protests, and used teargas to disperse demonstrations. The group has warned that Maduro could resort to further bloodshed to hold onto power.
WATCH: Coverage of Venezuela crisis
Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets that day following calls by opposition leader Juan Guaido for the Venezuelan people to mobilize against Maduro, who he labelled a dictator.
During the protest, Guaido proclaimed himself the interim president of Venezuela, saying that he would call for free and fair elections.
That same day, the U.S., Canada and several Latin American countries said they consider Guaido the acting president of Venezuela, and don’t recognize the presidency of Maduro, whose May 2018 re-election was widely criticized as a sham.
However, Russia and China have thrown their support behind Maduro.
Maduro, who took over the presidency from his mentor Hugo Chavez in 2013 following Chavez’s death, has presided over the worst economic crisis in Venezuela’s history, with inflation projected to hit 10 million per cent this year.
The economic crisis has prompted an exodus of refugees, with some three million people fleeing Venezuela since 2015.
A further two million are likely to emigrate in 2019, the UN estimates.
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