The worsening violence of street protests in Caracas was on full display Wednesday in a horrifying sequence of images showing an opposition protester accidentally set ablaze during a clash with authorities.
Footage from the incident appeared to show a group of demonstrators kicking and throwing objects at the smoldering ruins of a police motorbike before its gas tank exploded. Security forces had been working to prevent demonstrators reaching the National Assembly. Two photographers with Agence France-Presse, Juan Barreto and Ronaldo Schemidt, were nearby and captured the hellish scene as it unfolded.
The motorcycle was behind Schemidt when it exploded. “I just took the camera to catch whatever just happened and then I realized there was a man on fire running next to me,” Schemidt tells TIME in an email interview. “He was wrapped in flames, running desperately to those who could help him: demonstrators and emergency medics,” he adds. “I remember his screams and the screams of people around.”
At one point, “he finally fell down, still on fire.” Schemidt says someone threw water on the man’s body to stamp out the flames while others used their hands to do so. An Associated Press picture appeared to show the man standing afterward, with a severely burned left arm, and Schemidt says the man was later taken to a hospital.
“The scene lasted just a few seconds and my reaction as a photojournalist was to document what was going on,” he adds. “And I was aware that there were well trained people to help him.”
Nearly three dozen people have reportedly been killed and hundreds injured in the past month as demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro have swelled. Clouds of tear gas, sticks, stones and molotov cocktails have become commonplace as authorities in riot gear square off against groups mostly comprised of young men, many of their faces hidden behind balaclavas. The latest wave is the result of an announcement by Maduro that he intends to rewrite the constitution.
On the afternoon of this incident, a surreal video circulated on Twitter—notably shared by opposition leader Henrique Capriles—showing a dancing Maduro on television before panning to a street clash between protesters and police.
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