Sunday 17 December 2017

Watch: Dramatic scenes in Venezuela as protesters take to the streets

Corina Pons and Alexandra Ulmer

Protestors marched in cities around Venezuela on Thursday as the country's disparate opposition gained new impetus against a socialist government it blames for the country's social and economic collapse.

The spark for this wave of demonstrations was a move last week by the Supreme Court to assume control of the country's opposition-led congress in what demonstrators said was a lurch toward dictatorship.

While the widely condemned decision was quickly overturned, the opposition has stepped up street protests, despite them achieving little in the past.

"We live in a dictatorship, and the only way out of a dictatorship is to take to the streets," said 20-year-old student Victor Sanchez marching through the capital.

The opposition is demanding the removal of seven Supreme Court justices who signed last week's sentence. Critics of President Nicolas Maduro accuse the government of stalling elections for state governors, which polls suggest would not go well for the ruling Socialist Party.

"The objective is to put the magistrates on trial (and) get the government to publish an electoral timetable," opposition lawmaker Stalin Gonzalez told Caracas-based Union Radio. "This country has changed and wants to get out of the crisis."

Maduro's government says a US-backed business elite is responsible for Venezuela's economic downturn and is now trying to foment a coup to impose right-wing rule. His supporters also rallied in Caracas on Thursday.

Venezuela is suffering from triple-digit inflation, shortages of basic foods and medicines, and one of the world's highest murder rates.

Tensions have been simmering this week after tear gas and rocks flew between protesters and security forces during a major demonstration on Tuesday. The confrontations injured 20 people and led to 18 arrests, according to the Caracas-based Penal Forum rights group.

The opposition says it faces growing persecution. The leader of one of its parties, Copei, sought refuge in the home of the Chilean ambassador in Caracas on Wednesday, according to that country's foreign ministry.

Opposition protests were slow to kick off on Thursday as authorities had closed subway stations and added checkpoints to major highways.

"They can do whatever they want, but the people of Venezuela will today make their voices heard on the streets," tweeted opposition lawmaker Juan Requesens, who has led protests this week.

Not since 2014's major unrest has the opposition held such sustained demonstrations. Still, working against them is protester fatigue, fear of violence, and the fact so many Venezuelans need to spend much of their day looking for food.

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