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Venezuela police block opposition lawmakers

April 5, 2017

In some of Venezuela's most violent protests in months, anti-government demonstrators tried to accompany lawmakers in a march to the National Assembly for a vote on the Supreme Court. Police blocked their way.

Venezuela Proteste in Caracas
Image: Reuters/M. Bello

Venezuelan riot police clashed with anti-government demonstrators and opposition lawmakers on Tuesday in some of the largest protests in months against socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

Police blocked the opposition's march to the National Assembly, where lawmakers planned to hold a session to debate removing Supreme Court justices who ruled last week to seize legislative powers from the opposition-controlled Congress.

At least nine people were injured, including one person who was shot in the leg, as police backed by tanks and anti-riot vehicles fired tear gas and pepper spray on demonstrators, some of whom threw rocks.

Among those who felt the burn of pepper spray was National Assembly head Julio Borges, and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.

"This is how they show disrespect for people sworn in as lawmakers," Borges said on Twitter. "Lawmakers assaulted on Libertador Avenue as we headed in to hold a session."

Supreme Court debate postponed

Although the Maduro-allied Supreme Court reversed its decision to seize power from Congress over the weekend after coming under international and domestic pressure, divided opposition forces have been become united and emboldened in their quest to remove the socialist president.

"Our demands are crystal clear," said Capriles, standing next to a barricade erected by activists. "We all have to unite our forces because Maduro has chosen the path of dictatorship."

Venezuela Proteste in Caracas
Several thousand angry anti-government protesters took to the streets.Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/F. Llano

Unable to hold the session at the National Assembly, debate on removing the judges was postponed until Wednesday. Any vote would largely be symbolic because the Supreme Court has reversed most decisions by lawmakers since the opposition took control of Congress in 2015.

Pro-government rally

A rival pro-government march on the National Assembly was also staged, underlying the tense and combustible nature of an ongoing political crisis driven by a collapsing economy and what the opposition says is Maduro's drive to implement a dictatorship.

Opposition activists said armed pro-government gangs on motorcycles fired into the air.

The opposition blames Maduro for economic paralysis that has resulted in shortages of food and other basic goods in the oil-rich country. Repeated opposition attempts to force a recall referendum and election to replace Maduro have been blocked by the courts and the electoral commission.

Maduro and his supporters blame a capitalist conspiracy led by the United States seeking to carry out a coup against his rule.

"It's they who are trying to carry out a coup," socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello told the crowd of mostly government workers. "Everyone who is traitor of the motherland should be treated like an enemy in our territory."

No sweet talking during bread shortages

cw/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)