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Venezuelan soldiers storm protester base

Demonstrators evicted from square in Caracas, a day after President Maduru vowed to retake streets.

Last updated: 17 Mar 2014 05:55
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Anti-government protests against President Maduro have been raging for more than six weeks [Reuters]

Venezuelan soldiers have stormed a protest site in the capital Caracas to evict demonstrators who had turned it into a stronghold against the rule of President Nicolas Maduro.

Soldiers from the National Guard fired tear gas and water cannon on Sunday at hundreds of demonstrators at a square in Plaza Altamira, in the east of the capital, as protesters responded by hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails before abandoning the square.

According to a Reuters news agency report, some soldiers rode into the area on motorbikes, rounding up a dozen demonstrators before demolishing protesters' barricades, apparently carrying out Maduro's vow to retake the square.

We are going to carry on liberating spaces taken by the protesters.

Nicolas Maduro, Venezuelan president

On Saturday, Maduro threatened to use force against protesters and "liberate" public areas that had been blocked by protesters.

"We are going to carry on liberating spaces taken by the protesters," the 51-year-old successor to late leader Hugo Chavez said in a speech at a pro-government rally in a different part of Caracas.

The protests against the socialist government began in early February over violent crime, shortages of essential goods and soaring inflation.

"I spend five or six hours in a queue just to buy two packets of flour, or two bottles of cooking oil," Pedro Perez, a 64-year-old protester, told Reuters.

"Also, I'm protesting over insecurity and the lies this government tells Venezuelans, bringing Cuban soldiers here ...This is an ungovernable country, we can't carry on like this." 

Opposition leaders have been incensed over the presence of Cuban advisers in Venezuela's army and other state institutions.

In the east of the capital, protesters carried signs and banners calling on Cuba to stop interfering in the country.

Imprisoned opposition leader

Government supporters also took to the streets of Caracas on Sunday as thousands of Maduro supporters praised the leaders food welfare policies and his ties to Cuba.

"We are going to strengthen the brotherhood between the Venezuelan and Cuban peoples," Maduro told that rally in response to the opposition's anti-Cuba slogans.

Venezuela supplies more than 100,000 barrels per day of oil to Cuba, for which it is partly paid by the presence of more than 30,000 medics, sports trainers and others from the communist-ruled island.

Outside the capital, the opposition party Popular Will said that members of the armed forces had stopped and beaten several politicians trying to visit imprisoned protest leader Leopoldo Lopez at his jail cell.

In a handwritten interview with pro-opposition newspaper El Universal, Lopez, 42, said he had developed a strict regime of exercise, studies and writing from his prison cell.

"I try to be disciplined because I'm aware that in jail, the main tools of my struggle are my mind and spirit," he said.

Lopez, who heads the Popular Will party, was arrested last month on charges of fomenting violence.

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