Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Venezuela on Saturday to mark 50 days of protests against the government of President Nicholas Maduro.
In Caracas alone, some 160,000 marched through the city, said Edinson Ferrer, a spokesman for the opposition, citing a preliminary estimate.
Protesters brandished placards that read “We are millions against the dictatorship” and “No more dictatorship”.
Many Venezuelans are furious with Maduro’s government, blaming it for soaring inflation, shortages of food and medicine, and a crackdown on human rights. They are demanding elections and autonomy for the opposition-led legislature.
Two-time presidential candidate and de facto opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, led the Caracas march.
“Fifty days and they’ve assassinated 50 people… Despite everything, on day 50, amid more repression, there is more resistance and more fight for Venezuela,” he said.
As with many of the previous marches, police firing tear gas broke up the demonstration and protesters responded by throwing stones and petrol bombs. Many young men wore hoods and gas masks and carried makeshift shields of wood and metal.
One man was set on fire during the rally by people who accused him of stealing, the Reuters news agency said.
In the volatile border city of San Cristobal in Tachira state, more than 40,000 people took to the streets. Maduro had sent in 2,600 soldiers there after a week of mayhem that included looting.
“We don’t want more deaths. We want salaries that mean something, and medicines. The government invests more in bullets and weapons than in food and education for this country,” said Maria Diaz, a 33-year-old lawyer, standing in the torrential rain in front of security forces.
The turnout for Saturday’s demonstrations came close to the biggest rally during seven weeks of protests, when several hundred thousand people came out on April 19.
The demonstrations have degenerated into violence that has left 47 dead, hundreds injured, 2,200 detained and some 161 imprisoned by military tribunals.
Anti- Maduro protests have swelled since he called for convening a “popular” assembly to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution, with half its members coming from sectors loyal to him.
The opposition says the assembly would allow Maduro to avoid elections. He denies that and has “guaranteed” that presidential elections will be held next year, as required by law.
Maduro insisted Friday that the “popular” assembly would provide a “path to peace, dialogue and consensus,” while the opposition, he said, was offering only “violence and death.” He accuses protesters of trying to foment a coup beneath pro-democracy rhetoric.
Al Jazeera’s John Holman, reporting from Cucuta on the Colombia-Venezuela border, said the government was responding to the growing pressure by “doubling down”.
“Opposition leader Henrique Capriles was trying to leave the country the other day to go to New York City to talk to the UN and he says the authorities took away his passport,” he said.
“President Maduro has also extended the state of emergency that had been in effect for over a year now. That means he doesn’t really have to listen to the opposition-controlled Congress and get his decrees issued as he sees fit.”
Maduro has his supporters, too.
On the other side of town, some 2,000 pro-government workers sang and danced as they staged a rival march to show their support for the president’s controversial plan to rewrite the constitution.
On Thursday, the US imposed sanctions on the chief judge and seven other members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court and President Donald Trump described Venezuela’s humanitarian situation as “a disgrace to humanity.”
Maduro responded by telling Trump to stop meddling in Venezuela’s affairs.