Oppositions vows to keep pressure on Maduro
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP):
Venezuela's opposition is vowing to keep up pressure on President Nicolas Maduro after flooding the streets of Caracas with demonstrators yesterday in its biggest show of force in years.
Protesters filled dozens of city blocks in what was dubbed The Taking of Caracas, to pressure electoral authorities to allow a recall referendum against Maduro this year. Protesters, dressed mostly in white and carrying Venezuelan flags, chanted, "It's going to fall, it's going to fall, the government is going to fall."
The build-up to the protest was tense. Maduro's government jailed several prominent activists, deployed security forces across the city and warned of bloodshed.
There were few immediate signs of violence, though Maduro told a much smaller rally of state workers and hard-core supporters that opponents are plotting a coup such as the one that briefly toppled his late predecessor, Hugo Chavez, in 2002.
He said authorities had arrested people possessing military fatigues and C4 explosives, and who had plans to fire upon the crowds dressed as national guard members.
"Today, we've defeated a coup attempt that sought to fill Venezuela and Caracas with violence and death," Maduro told his supporters without providing details about the accusations. "We're still looking for several criminals that paid to massacre the people."
Caracas political analyst Dimitris Pantoulas said the "warlike" language may have actually energised opponents who otherwise might be on vacation, or at a time of economic crisis, would have been standing in long lines for food.
"The government made a big mistake by throwing fuel onto the flames," said Pantoulas.
As the rally was wrapping up, the head of the opposition Democratic Unity alliance outlined the next steps in its campaign to force Maduro from office.
"Today is the beginning of the definitive stage of our struggle," Jesus Torrealba told supporters.
He called for a nationwide demonstration of pot-banging to protest growing hunger. There are also plans for two more street protests, including one on September 14 coinciding with the arrival of heads of state from around the world for a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement taking place on the Caribbean island of Margarita.
"This isn't the country I grew up in, and it's not the one I want my children to live in," said Olga Delgado, a school administrator who arrived to the protest on crutches following hip-replacement surgery. She was wearing a hat reading "I am squalid," appropriating for herself one of Chavez's favourite taunts for his opponents.
The opposition hopes to force electoral authorities widely seen as pro-government to allow a recall vote this year. If Maduro loses, new elections would be held, and polls indicate that the opposition would win. If a vote is delayed until after January 10 and Maduro loses, his vice-president would finish his term ending in 2019.