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Protesters clash with police in Venezuela

President tells protesters to clear out of square in Caracas or face eviction by security forces as clashes continue.

Last updated: 16 Mar 2014 03:46
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Daily street protests have rocked parts of the capital and other cities [EPA]

Anti-government demonstrators in Venezuela's capital Caracas have clashed for almost two hours with riot police who finally subdued them after President Nicolas Maduro's security forces cracked down.

The university students, many of them hooded, hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails, pulled up manhole covers, and piled up trash as makeshift barricades on Saturday.

Police finally used tear gas and their riot vehicles to clear the usually busy areas, sending the demonstrators scurrying.

Venezuela has seen almost daily anti-government demonstrations over violent crime, shortages of essential goods such as toilet paper, and soaring inflation, in the most serious challenge yet for Maduro since he succeeded Hugo Chavez as president last year.

At least 28 people have died, 400 more have been injured and nearly 1,300 others have been arrested in the student-led protests launched on February 4 in San Cristobal, in the west of Venezuela, and later spread to Caracas and several other cities.

There have been 41 investigations opened against police for alleged human rights violations.

Earlier on Saturday, hundreds of supporters of Maduro's leftist government staged a colourful rally in Caracas.

"The people and the armed forces are on the streets defending the Bolivarian revolution and the legacy of Hugo Chavez, the country and our constitution," said Diosdado Cabello, National Assembly speaker, sporting a coat in Venezuela's national colors of yellow, blue and red.

Many of the pro-government supporters held up Venezuelan flags and wore red, the colour closely associated with Chavez and his Bolivarian Revolution, while armed forces members joined in the rally.

The Popular Will, a prominent opposition party, called for a rival demonstration in another part of Caracas, "to repudiate the brutal onslaught of state security and pro-government [vigilante] groups against demonstrators".

Maduro's warning

Just before he reiterated his will on Saturday to meet student opposition demonstrators "with love", Maduro told a protest stronghold: "I am going to give these 'Chuckies' who are taking over [the plaza] and blocking Francisco de Miranda Avenue two hours and if they are not out, I will be liberating these public spaces with public forces."

He calls the protesters "Chuckies", a reference to the murdering knife-wielding doll in the horror film series.

Maduro announced he would propose to the US creating a high-level commission for bilateral talks, after days of tense rhetoric between the longtime foes.

He said his proposed commission "for peace and mutual respect of sovereignty" between Venezuela and the US could include parties from both sides and the UNASUR grouping of South American nations.

But on Friday, the US dismissed Maduro's "absurd" accusations that it was meddling in the country's internal affairs by intervening in anti-government protests.

Elias Jaua, Venezuelan foreign minister, had earlier called his US counterpart John Kerry a "murderer of the Venezuelan people", accusing him of encouraging the protests that have killed 28 people in five weeks.

Maduro said he would seek to name Cabello to lead potential talks with the US "to speak while respecting peace for a dialogue among equals".

His terms for dialogue with the US are virtually identical to those that have been stated repeatedly by Cuba, his government's closest ally.

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Source:
AFP
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