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Venezuela Police Repel Rare Protest near Presidential Palace

Venezuela Police Repel Rare Protest near Presidential Palace

Thursday, 02 June 2016 05:20 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A throng of protesters demanding food made a run for the Venezuelan presidential palace on Thursday in a rare, apparently spontaneous outburst of anger at the socialist administration within the heart of Caracas.

More than 100 people charged down the main thoroughfare in central Caracas chanting "No more talk. We want food." They got within about a half dozen blocks of the presidential palace before police in riot gear headed them off and began firing tear gas.

Police pushed the protesters back as some kicked their plastic shields. More officers ran toward the scene and filled in the streets between the protesters and the palace.

Onlookers leaned out of windows banging pots and yelling insults at the officers.

The economically struggling county has seen near-daily spontaneous protests in recent weeks over shortages of food and medicine, rolling blackouts, and poor access to running water.

The organized opposition has staged several large rallies against the administration of President Nicolas Maduro, but the government has deployed troops in the streets to keep them from their goal of reaching the presidential palace.

Those formal marches tend to draw middle class protesters, but Thursday's eruption was made up largely of poor people who had been waiting for hours to buy food at subsidized prices.

Protesters said the incident began at a nearby supermarket when it appeared that people affiliated with the government were taking away food that people had been waiting all day to buy.

"We have needs too. We all need to eat" said Jose Lopez, 23, who joined dozens of others racing toward the presidential palace.

Lopez and other protesters said they were neither members of the opposition nor supporters of the government, just people trying to feed themselves.

The government has long counted on the poor people who live downtown and the slums above the city to support the administration, or at least stay away from opposition marches. The administration takes it as a point of pride that the presidential palace looks directly out on a shantytown.

The incident Thursday invoked the specter of a four-day convulsion of looting in 1989 that left hundreds dead and is seared in Venezuela's national memory.

Shops closed their doors Thursday as police continued to fire tear gas, and some armed government supporters hit protesters with sticks. Both groups eventually moved off to a side street, leaving the usually chaotic thoroughfare empty in the early afternoon.

Hours after the main protest was contained, people continued to come down from their homes and face off with police, shouting, "We are hungry." Government supporters patrolled the streets on motorcycles and police periodically fired tear gas to break up the crowd, which kept reforming

Political leaders from both sides tried to use the incident to advance their cause.

"Every day the people are getting closer to the presidential palace demanding food. Soon they'll be at the door of the palace, Nicolas Maduro!" tweeted opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who has been leading the formal opposition marches.

Others in the opposition said the protest recalled the massive march that reached the presidential palace in 2002 and was followed by a coup that briefly ousted late President Hugo Chavez, Maduro's mentor.

Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodriguez, a Maduro ally, told a local radio station that the protest had been started by black market vendors who resell scarce items like sugar and toilet paper "at blood prices" near the site where the incident started. He said the government was working on food programs to put those vendors out of business.

"Thankfully we have the situation under control," he said.

Hannah Dreier is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/hannahdreier. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/hannah-dreier

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A throng of protesters demanding food made a run for the Venezuelan presidential palace on Thursday in a rare, apparently spontaneous outburst of anger at the socialist administration within the heart of Caracas.More than 100 people charged down the main thoroughfare in...
LT,Venezuela,Protest
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2016-20-02
Thursday, 02 June 2016 05:20 PM
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