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Venezuelan Security Forces Repel Protesters with Tear Gas

Venezuelan Security Forces Repel Protesters with Tear Gas

Tuesday, 10 March 2020 03:38 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Security forces fired tear gas Tuesday to repel an anti-government march led by Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is struggling to reignite street protests to capitalize on mounting international pressure against embattled socialist Nicolás Maduro

The opposition supporters, who numbered several hundred, assembled in a leafy, anti-government neighborhood of Caracas with the goal of taking back the National Assembly, which was taken over two months ago by a splinter faction of the opposition that claimed leadership of the legislature with the support of the ruling socialist party.

Many of the demonstrators were draped in the red, blue and yellow colors of Venezuela's flag and banged on pots to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis in the oil-rich nation. Smaller protests took place in several cities across the nation.

But riot police wielding heavy shields and backed by armored vehicles blocked their progress downtown, where masses of red-shirted state workers and Maduro supporters were gathering in defense of the revolution begun by the late President Hugo Chavez.

“They try to intimidate us with weapons of war,” Guaidó said from a megaphone. “We’ll keep going until we reach our goal.”

Shortly afterward, clashes broke out as protesters flung rocks and sticks at security forces, who responded by scattering the crowd with volleys of tear gas. Guaidó then led a smaller group that reconvened in a safer part of town for an impromptu, outdoor session of the National Assembly.

Addressing lawmakers, Guaidó repeated his refrain that the only solution to an economic and social crisis marked by hyperinflation and crumbling public services is free presidential elections.

But even some of his supporters are beginning to second guess that strategy. Henry Ramos, a lawmaker who heads the Democratic Action party, said that with a new presidential vote out of reach for now, it's time to start preparing for parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for this year.

“What are we going to do? Stay at home and let the government grab the National Assembly?” Ramos said in a rare public break with Guaidó, who has ruled out participating in any parliamentary election until the Maduro-stacked electoral council is overhauled.

Nearly 60 nations, led by the United States, recognize Guaidó, head of the congress, as Venezuela's legitimate leader because they view Maduro's 2018 reelection as fraudulent.

Guaidó garnered wide support with massive crowds across the country after he declared himself interim president last year based on a reading of the constitution that power should revert temporarily to the head of congress if the presidency is vacant.

Since then, he's amassed an impressive arsenal of international support. U.S. President Donald Trump praised him as “very brave man who carries with him the hopes, dreams and aspirations of all Venezuelans” as his guest at the State of the Union address

But Maduro continues to hold all practical levers of power and Guaidós crowds have thinned in recent months. Tuesday's rally was seen as a key test on whether he could reignite demonstrations following an international tour that took him to the White House as well as meetings with the leaders of the U.K., France and Canada.

David Smilde, a longtime Venezuela observer who teaches at Tulane University, said that while Tuesday's mobilization was larger than the last, it was still modest compared to a year ago as many people feared repression by security forces and military exercises downtown impeded turnout. Others stayed away because they've reconciled themselves to a new economic reality, one marked by increasing dollarization, and are too busy trying to get ahead.

“Venezuelans might support Guaidó and oppose Maduro, but that does not mean they are going to spend their time and risk their well-being by mobilizing in the streets,” Smilde said.

Since returning to Caracas last month, Guaidó has been met with fierce resistance by armed civilians and security forces loyal to Maduro.

Those attacks drew condemnation Tuesday from Michelle Bachelet, the U.N.'s high commissioner for human rights, who said she was concerned about the arrest of opposition figures and recent attacks on demonstrators and journalists who covered Guaidó's return to Caracas.

In a statement in Geneva, she said her office continues to receive allegations of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" at military counterintelligence prisons.

I “call for all parties to act with the heightened sense of purpose that the country deserves, in order to avoid further escalation in political confrontation that could lead to violence,” she said.

The country's political and economic crisis has driven more than 4.5 million Venezuelans to migrate from the once-wealthy South American nation, escaping soaring inflation, scarcity of basic goods and unreliable services, such as lights and water.

© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Security forces fired tear gas Tuesday to repel an anti-government march led by Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who is struggling to reignite street protests to capitalize on mounting international pressure against embattled socialist Nicolás MaduroThe opposition...
Tuesday, 10 March 2020 03:38 PM
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