CARACAS, Venezuela — Soldiers fired tear gas and deployed water cannons late Friday to break up hundreds of student demonstrators blocking a highway in protest against President Nicolas Maduro.
Members of the Bolivarian National Guard chased off hundreds of protesters to protest Maduro's leftist policies.
"I'm not going to allow any more highways and main avenues to be blocked," Maduro said at an official event held as soldiers were breaking up the protest.
Draped in flags and waving pro-peace and anti-government signs, the protesters demanded the release of nearly 100 demonstrators arrested in the past days, and mourned the death of three of their own killed in a Wednesday protest.
Crowds of protesters have assembled in the capital in an anti-government movement launched 10 days ago by students who have received backing from some of the country's fractured opposition groups. Rampant crime, soaring inflation and basic goods shortages are their main grievances.
Despite having the world's largest proven reserves of crude oil, the country remains economically divided. The past week has seen the biggest show of defiance to Maduro's leadership since he took over from the late Hugo Chavez last year.
"We are here once again to demand the release of students who were detained and because we can't live with such violence," Maria Correia, 20, said in a Chacao, a wealthy pro-opposition neighborhood in eastern Caracas.
Other protests took place across the country, including in the western city of San Cristobal.
The protesters have demanded that Maduro step down, but top opposition leader Henrique Capriles has said the political conditions are not favorable to the president's exit.
Maduro has called a demonstration by his supporters "for peace and against fascism" on Saturday.
The tension that surrounds the demonstrations in Caracas was underscored by a report from Twitter that the government has blocked pictures of the unrest from being shared between users on the social messaging service.
The state-owned telecommunications company CANTV "emphatically" denied putting any such restrictions in place.
The dueling processions follow a fierce opposition demonstration in Caracas on Wednesday in which a pro-government demonstrator and two students died. Dozens more were wounded and many were arrested.
Expressing concern at the growing unrest, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Organization of American States demanded explanations about the events.
Most Venezuelan television channels have abstained from covering the unrest of recent days, after the National Telecommunications Council media regulator warned of sanctions against outlets that "encourage violence."
In remarks late Thursday, Maduro accused foreign media, including Agence France-Presse, of manipulating coverage of the unrest, and took Colombian 24-hour cable news channel NTN24 off the air.
And on Friday, Twitter, based in San Francisco, provided a tip on how to sidestep a block on pictures being shared on the network — instructing Venezuelan users to have tweets delivered to smartphones in text messages.
Maduro has also ordered the arrest of a senior opposition figure and declared that he would not be overthrown — though protesters say a coup is not their goal.
Late Friday Maduro announced a 10-point plan to crack down on crime that includes disarming the population, increased police patrols, and unspecified "clear rules for television."
Wednesday's violence led to a security crackdown in cities across a country where the economy has been battered by inflation of more than 50 percent.
Venezuela — with an institutionally socialist government dependent on oil revenues in a state-led system — has been hurt by a shortage of hard currency, while dwindling supplies of consumer goods have frustrated even some government supporters.
© AFP 2014