Venezuela security forces clash with anti-Maduro protesters

By Andrew V. Pestano  |  April 4, 2017 at 3:16 PM
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April 4 (UPI) -- Venezuela's security forces on Tuesday clashed with anti-government protesters seeking, in part, to remove justices from the Supreme Tribunal of Justice accused of unconstitutionally favoring the ruling party.

Security forces -- including the Bolivarian National Police, or PNB, and the Venezuelan National Guard, or GNB -- fired tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons in attempts to disperse protesters in Caracas.

"PNB officials throwing tear gas and pepper against the demonstrators, especially affecting older adults," the opposition-controlled National Assembly legislature said in a statement.

There were two protests on Tuesday: one called for by the opposition and one in support of President Nicolas Maduro's regime, most of whom were made up of dozens of people moving through Caracas on motorcycles. The opposition demonstration was planned as a march from Caracas' Plaza Venezuela to the National Assembly's building, which is about a 3-mile march.

But as the opposition prepared to participate, authorities closed several of Caracas' subway stations and set up security checkpoints and roadblocks. Officials closed off access to Plaza Venezuela, opposition members said.

Clashes ensued as security forces attempted to repel protesters, some of whom began to throw rocks and other objects at the security officials. The Venezuelan opposition accused Maduro's regime of preventing a peaceful protest from occurring.

"Hundreds of police and guards move to block access to Caracas for a mobilization, but against insecurity not a single one moves!" Henrique Capriles Radonski, governor of Venezuela's Miranda state and a key opposition leader, said in a statement Tuesday.

The protests come after Venezuela's Supreme Tribunal of Justice, or TSJ, last week said it would assume the National Assembly's duties -- a ruling it later reversed, particularly after Venezuela's chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega, expressed "great concern" about the measure, which she said violated the constitution. The opposition said the TSJ's move was akin to a coup d'etat in favor of Maduro's regime.

The South American country is facing a political, security and economic crisis in which basic goods such as food and medicine are in short supply, unavailable or unaffordable. Venezuela has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.

The opposition's efforts to remove Maduro from power have been dismantled by the TSJ, which is accused of ruling in favor of Maduro's regime.

Opposition protesters also said pro-government supporters have shot at the demonstrators while driving on motorcycles on highways.

Videos of the clashes on Tuesday were being widely circulated on social media.

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