Rival protests in Venezuela amid economic crisis

Opposition campaigns to oust President Nicolas Maduro while pro-government socialist group decries US "imperialism".

    Rival protests in Venezuela amid economic crisis
    Thousands attended both the opposition's rally and the ruling Socialists' "anti-Imperialist" march in Venezuela [EPA]

    Rival protests were staged in Venezuela, with the opposition campaigning to oust President Nicolas Maduro while a pro-government group demonstrated against new US sanctions on various Venezuelan officials.

    On Saturday, thousands attended both the opposition's rally and the ruling Socialists' "anti-Imperialist" march.

    Though many on both sides took to the streets of Caracas, neither march recalled the passionate rallies of recent years, with many Venezuelans exhausted by an economic and social crisis that seems to be worsening.

    READ MORE: Venezuela opposition calls for push to oust Maduro

    The opposition alliance is pursuing a multi-pronged strategy to oust Maduro via protests, a recall referendum or a constitutional amendment to cut his term.

    They hope to capitalise on anger over a deep recession, triple-digit inflation and rampant insecurity.

    "Venezuela is in chaos ... more misery, more crime and more destruction," Ruth Briceno, a 35-year-old law student, told Reuters news agency.  

    Two years ago, the opposition mobilised tens of thousands of people in nationwide protests. For weeks, Venezuela's streets were filled with tear gas and burning trash.

    Similar protests have begun in the western city of San Cristobal, where such rallies often start, though they have yet to hit the capital.

    Maduro: Let them come for me

    On the other side of Caracas, red-clad government supporters protested against US President Barack Obama's renewing of a decree sanctioning various Venezuelan officials.

    "We're here to defeat Obama's decree. It's stupid," said Raiza Sucre, 50, a state employee. She boarded a government-funded bus at midnight to arrive in Caracas at 5am (10:00GMT) for the rally that also drew several thousand protesters.

    From a stage, speakers blasted out "Yankee Go Home" and a recording of the national anthem sung by former leader Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer in 2013, before Maduro gave a thundering speech blasting Obama and his domestic foes.

    WATCH: Has Venezuela's socialist revolution died with Chavez?

    "Let them come for me. Nobody's giving up here!" Maduro said, before mocking Henry Ramos, leader of the opposition-controlled legislature. "I imagine him in Miraflores (presidential palace). My God, save us from that! There'd be a national insurrection a week later."

    Maduro was elected in 2013, a month after succeeding mentor Hugo Chavez following his death from cancer. Maduro reaches the midway point of his term on April 19.

    Yet, many say he lacks lacks the charisma and oratory of his popular predecessor, failing to draw out the crowds and enthusiasm of Chavez's rule.

    The multi-party opposition coalition, too, may struggle in its bid to get people out onto the streets after the 2014 protests failed to bring about change.

    "I was expecting more people today; we have to pressure this government to go," painter Rafael Araujo, 62, told Reuters at the opposition event, holding a placard that read: "Resign before the people turn on you!" 

    SOURCE: Agencies


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