Thursday, 26 April, 2018

Venezuelans pour into Caracas streets in anti-Maduro protest

Melinda Barton | 21 April, 2017, 19:03

Henrique Capriles, the Venezuelan opposition leader who had been tipped to run against President Maduro in the 2018 presidential elections, has been barred from seeking political office for the next 15 years.

Maduro's government has said a US-backed business elite is responsible for Venezuela's economic downturn, and it is trying to foment a coup to impose right-wing rule.

“We have a protest scheduled for Saturday, now there is one more reason (.) Let us defend our constitution, let us defend our country, ” Capriles said while urging people that his disqualification should serve as another reason to continue protests against the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Venezuela's most-famous political prisoner was arrested in 2014 and later sentenced to almost 14 years in prison on what are widely seen as trumped-up charges of inciting violence tied to 2014 anti-government protests.

Venezuela's socialist government banned a prominent opposition leader from holding elective office for 15 years, the latest political crackdown in the country.

On Thursday, Mayor of the Caracas Municipality of Chacao announced that over a dozen people were injured during clashes between opposition protesters and law enforcement in Venezuela's capital.

The protest was part of a week of unrest that has followed a Supreme Court ruling nullifying congress.

While the widely condemned decision was quickly overturned, the opposition has stepped up street protests against President Nicolas Maduro, despite such demonstrations having achieved little in the past. Few economists expect a short-term improvement to the situation because Maduro's government has repeatedly avoided reform measures such as lifting the exchange controls that could bring back economic stability.

A march against the ban of a top opposition official turned violent, as police confronted the demonstrators.

"As consecrated religious, we invite and accompany our people to demonstrate their will, joined with sound judgement and non-violence, but with forcefulness, so that the arbitrariness leading us to a situation of dictatorship is corrected", the Conference of Religious Men and Women of Venezuela (CONVER) said in an April 4 statement. "You have to get rid of this government", said Asusena Aquilera, a 57-year-old retired finance worker who came to the protest with a flag draped around her shoulders.

Mr Capriles said that he would appeal against the decision and stay in his job as governor, which he has held since 2008.

Addressing a crowd before Saturday's demonstration, which drew thousands, Capriles said "Nobody can disqualify the Venezuelan people".

Venezuelans are dealing with the effects of a harsh economic crisis that has millions skipping meals, unable to afford soaring prices for basic goods and facing long lines for scarce products.

Tensions have been simmering after tear gas and rocks flew between protesters and security forces during a major demonstration on Tuesday.

Capriles' case has echoes of that of former presidential hopeful Leopoldo Lopez, now serving a 14-year jail sentence on charges of inciting 2014 anti-government protests.

He added that the government is "doubling down" against the opposition. Rights group Penal Forum says nearly 100 people have also been arrested during protests in the last few days.