Rival protests continue in Venezuela

Supporters of President Nicholas Maduro fear a right-wing coup being staged against the country's Socialist leader.


Caracas, Venezuela - The streets of Venezuela's capital were quiet on Sunday morning. Throughout the day and night previously, competing demonstrations brought tens of thousands onto the streets in the biggest rallies since recent tensions erupted in early February.
Backers of Socialist President Nicholas Maduro say far-right elements in the political opposition are attempting to capitalise on high inflation and insecurity to bring down the elected government.

Rival mass protests rock Venezuela

Demonstrators at the opposition rally, meanwhile, said they were facing violence from security forces and armed pro-government collectives, and Maduro's government was steadily eroding the economy and democratic institutions. 
"Our protests have been attacked by collectives with guns, so people are scared," Alexis Perez, a student, told Al Jazeera. "If the repression continues, more people will join our demonstrations. At some point the government will have to sit down and negotiate with the opposition."
On Saturday, Maduro called for a national peace conference to be held on Wednesday, so Venezuelans could come together to "neutralise violent groups".
The death toll from the recent unrest rose to ten on Saturday, after medics announced that a 23-year-old student shot in the face three days ago in the industrial city of Valencia had died of her wounds.
Many government supporters rallying under the banner of women's rights accused the opposition of exaggerating reports of violence to paint themselves as victims. Government backers also dismissed concerns over repression and inflation as the rhetoric of a vocal, upper class minority who lack the political support to win elections. 

We have the political power, but [the opposition] still have the economic power

Caridad Blanco, government supporter,

"The opposition is causing inflation and they exaggerate it [in their media]," said Caridad Blanco, a retiree and government supporter. "We have the political power, but they still have the economic power." She fears the opposition is trying to stage a coup, as happened in 2002.
Opposition leaders told Al Jazeera they want dialogue - not an immediate end to Maduro's government - and said they were working to build trust in poor communities traditionally aligned to socialists. 
"Our party has launched a campaign to broaden our base in the popular sectors of society," Juan Pablo Lopez Gross, a politician with the opposition party Voluntad Popular told Al Jazeera. "We have networks [in poor areas] where teams of four or five people organise around specific problems in the community and anyone is welcome to join, regardless of their political affiliation."
He credits this strategy for the opposition winning Petare, a poor community in Caracas, during municipal elections in December.
But Layday Granados, a student at one of the newly created Bolivarian Universities, doesn't trust such tactics. 
"The opposition wants us to go back to the time before the revolution, when we were poor and hungry," Grandos told Al Jazeera, as she marched with government supporters. "The revolution has brought positive changes; many things have improved."
Pro-government candidates secured more than 75 percent of municipal seats nationwide in the most recent electoral test, meaning the opposition still isn't winning the hearts, minds and ballots of the poor majority. 
Politicians such as Lopez Gross won't have another chance to battle at the ballot box until 2016.
Both sides of the political divide are wary about the chances of real dialogue making the country stable in the near-term - and protests are set to continue.

Follow Chris Arsenault on Twitter: @chrisAJE