Rival protests continue in Venezuela

Supporters of President Nicholas Maduro fear a right-wing coup being staged against the country’s Socialist leader.

Caracas, Venezuela – The streets of Venezuela’s capital were quiet on Sunday morning. Throughout the day and night previously, competing demonstrations brought tens of thousands onto the streets in the biggest rallies since recent tensions erupted in early February.

Backers of Socialist President Nicholas Maduro say far-right elements in the political opposition are attempting to capitalise on high inflation and insecurity to bring down the elected government.

Demonstrators at the opposition rally, meanwhile, said they were facing violence from security forces and armed pro-government collectives, and Maduro’s government was steadily eroding the economy and democratic institutions.

“Our protests have been attacked by collectives with guns, so people are scared,” Alexis Perez, a student, told Al Jazeera. “If the repression continues, more people will join our demonstrations. At some point the government will have to sit down and negotiate with the opposition.”

On Saturday, Maduro called for a national peace conference to be held on Wednesday, so Venezuelans could come together to “neutralise violent groups”.

The death toll from the recent unrest rose to ten on Saturday, after medics announced that a 23-year-old student shot in the face three days ago in the industrial city of Valencia had died of her wounds.

Many government supporters rallying under the banner of women’s rights accused the opposition of exaggerating reports of violence to paint themselves as victims. Government backers also dismissed concerns over repression and inflation as the rhetoric of a vocal, upper class minority who lack the political support to win elections.

We have the political power, but [the opposition] still have the economic power

Caridad Blanco, government supporter,

“The opposition is causing inflation and they exaggerate it [in their media],” said Caridad Blanco, a retiree and government supporter. “We have the political power, but they still have the economic power.” She fears the opposition is trying to stage a coup, as happened in 2002.

Opposition leaders told Al Jazeera they want dialogue – not an immediate end to Maduro’s government – and said they were working to build trust in poor communities traditionally aligned to socialists.

“Our party has launched a campaign to broaden our base in the popular sectors of society,” Juan Pablo Lopez Gross, a politician with the opposition party Voluntad Popular told Al Jazeera. “We have networks [in poor areas] where teams of four or five people organise around specific problems in the community and anyone is welcome to join, regardless of their political affiliation.”

He credits this strategy for the opposition winning Petare, a poor community in Caracas, during municipal elections in December.

But Layday Granados, a student at one of the newly created Bolivarian Universities, doesn’t trust such tactics.

“The opposition wants us to go back to the time before the revolution, when we were poor and hungry,” Grandos told Al Jazeera, as she marched with government supporters. “The revolution has brought positive changes; many things have improved.”

Pro-government candidates secured more than 75 percent of municipal seats nationwide in the most recent electoral test, meaning the opposition still isn’t winning the hearts, minds and ballots of the poor majority.

Politicians such as Lopez Gross won’t have another chance to battle at the ballot box until 2016.

Both sides of the political divide are wary about the chances of real dialogue making the country stable in the near-term – and protests are set to continue.

/Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera
The opposition’s Saturday rally drew thousands of people angry about insecurity, inflation and what they view as the criminalisation of dissent.
/Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera
Government supporters, including Daisy Perez, a cleaner, believe the opposition is working with foreign powers to try and destabailise the democratically elected president.
/Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera
Backers of the government usually wear red to their rallies.
/Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera
Meanwhile, supporters of the opposition sported white on Saturday, as part of what they said was a plea for peace.
/Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera
With thousands attending both rallies, it was difficult to judge which was larger.
/Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera
Both sides here are capable of bringing tens of thousands of people onto the streets to support their respective political projects.
/Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera
Workers at a government-run pizza restaurant were busy providing subsidised lunches to hungry marchers.
/Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera
Salesman did brisk business at each rally, capitalising on the respective protest styles of the opposing groups.
/Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera
Jose Manuel Rodriguez, a political organiser with the country’s opposition, expressed concern that armed pro-government groups had been intimidating and harassing student demonstrators.
/Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera
Government supporters, meanwhile, say opposition partisans have destroyed public property and attacked security forces.
/Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera
Both sides believe they hold the moral high ground and have promised to stay in the streets.
/Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera
The political tensions and turmoil look set to continue.
/Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera
Protesters took their own spin on the Guy Fawkes masks that have been popular in global protests in recent years.
In San Cristobal, capital of the western border state of Tachira, cars were set on fire and several people were injured in clashes with police.
Demonstrators blocked roads in San Cristobal, during a protest against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Source : Al Jazeera
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