Venezuelans gear up for opposition march

Demonstrators clash with riot police during the so-called mother of all marches against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on Wednesday

Demonstrators clash with riot police during the so-called mother of all marches against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on Wednesday

They were met Wednesday by a curtain of tear gas and rubber bullets as they attempted to march to downtown Caracas.

In the eastern district of Bello Monte, the PNB and National Guard managed to drive the demonstrators back, forcing hundreds of them to jump into the polluted Guaire River that flows through the city to escape the police assault.

Citing witnesses in Caracas, Reuters reports that Carlos Moreno, a teenage student who had not planned to join the demonstration, was shot in the head after "government supporters approached an opposition gathering and fired shots".

"I've just graduated. and what I've got in the bank isn't enough for a bottle of cooking oil", said Gregorio Mendoza, a 23 -year-old engineer in Puerto Ordaz. A Gallup poll shows that 13 percent of Venezuelans rated their lives positively, as opposed to 28 percent who said they were "suffering".

The opposition's mobilization comes amid weeks of protests as Maduro faces increasing scrutiny overseas and within his own government after the country's top court last month tried to grab power from the opposition-controlled congress.

On Tuesday, 11 Latin American nations on Tuesday asked Venezuela to hold elections to overcome the crisis. A group of youths with their faces covered tore down street signs and billboards for makeshift barricades.

Opposition leaders also accuse the government of infiltrating marches with violent protesters as a way of discrediting them.

With its momentum renewed, the opposition is now pushing for Maduro's removal and the release of scores of political prisoners.

New administrations in Argentina, Brazil, and Peru notably started speaking up more about Venezuela in the past year, in particular calling for the government to restore democratic order and hold regional elections.

Maduro, addressing supporters at a large countermarch, seemed open to some sort of electoral showdown. Maduro, for his part, says it's the opposition that has turned to looting and violence and is bent on ousting him before his term ends in 2019. By doing away with the opposition-controlled legislative branch, the move effectively meant the remaining two branches of Venezuelan government were controlled by the ruling United Socialist Party.

Wednesday's mass protest fell on a significant date for Venezuelans: On April 19, 1810, Venezuelans began their quest for independence from Spain. The security forces do nothing to stop them and themselves repress peaceful protesters, opponents say.

Many were state workers like Leidy Marquez, who was bused in from Tachira state, on the other side of the country, along with co-workers at state-run oil giant PDVSA.

US President Donald Trump has not said much publicly about the crisis in Venezuela.

They also blame Maduro for ordering security forces to use tear gas against protesters and failing to stop pro-government armed groups from attacking demonstrators.

In a televised statement made when he was seated with his government ministers on Tuesday evening, Maduro accused the US State Department of trying to promote a military intervention and "direct aggression".

Seven protesters have been killed in demonstrations against Maduro's government, the BBC reported.

Foreign governments are also warning about the increasingly bellicose rhetoric and repressive stance of the government.

Maduro said this week that he would increase the size of a citizen militia that supports the government to 500,000 members and give each cadet a gun. Journalists covering the protests reported suffering harassment at the hands of security forces and pro-government supporters, and a TV cable channel that reported on the protests was taken off the air.

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