Mas­sive street protests raise the pres­sure on Venezue­lan leader.

Gov­ern­ment re­sponds with sub­way traf­fic jam

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY HAN­NAH DREIER

CARA­CAS, VENEZUELA | Tens of thou­sands of demon­stra­tors shut down much of Venezuela’s cap­i­tal on Thurs­day, block­ing the city’s main artery to protest what they call an at­tempted coup by the so­cial­ist ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro.

Many car­ried signs read­ing “No to Dic­ta­tor­ship” as they crowded the principal high­way that cuts from Cara­cas’ wealthy east­ern sec­tion to down­town. Later in the day, a group of younger pro­test­ers clashed with po­lice who turned the crowd away from the city cen­ter with tear gas, rub­ber bul­lets and wa­ter can­nons.

Protests have been held nearly ev­ery day in the oil-rich South Amer­i­can coun­try since the Supreme Court is­sued a rul­ing nul­li­fy­ing the works of the op­po­si­tion-dom­i­nated na­tional leg­is­la­ture last week. The court pulled back that de­ci­sion af­ter it came un­der heavy crit­i­cism, but op­po­si­tion lead­ers said the at­tempt to in­val­i­date a branch of power re­vealed the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s true dic­ta­to­rial na­ture.

Dubbed a “traf­fic jam against the coup,” Thurs­day’s demon­stra­tion was an at­tempt to show the gov­ern­ment that the op­po­si­tion will not let up pres­sure un­til early na­tional elec­tions are called. Many of those who braved the chok­ing trop­i­cal heat un­der um­brel­las and base­ball caps said they also par­tic­i­pated in a smaller and more vi­o­lent Tuesday protest that led to hand­ful of se­ri­ous in­juries and ar­rests.

“When I left this morn­ing, my grand­kids said: ‘Grandma, aren’t you scared?’ But I told them you can­not let your­self be in­tim­i­dated. You have to get rid of this gov­ern­ment,” said Asusena Aquil­era, a 57-yearold re­tired fi­nance worker who said she is strug­gling to get enough to eat amid food short­ages.

The gov­ern­ment re­sponded to Thurs­day’s march by cre­at­ing a traf­fic jam of its own, clos­ing more than a dozen Cara­cas sub­way sta­tions and stag­ing its own coun­ter­protest in the heart of the city. Many streets were blocked off in the early morn­ing, and some work­ers de­cided to stay home af­ter see­ing the traf­fic snarls.

Body­guards es­corted op­po­si­tion lead­ers through the crowds at the op­po­si­tion protest. Gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers wear­ing red shirts and car­ry­ing pipes were idling mo­tor­cy­cles at the out­skirts of the march.

Last week’s court rul­ing led to an out­cry from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity over what some coun­tries said was a turn to­ward dic­ta­tor­ship. The Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­ica States is­sued its strong­est warn­ing yet to Mr. Maduro, a pro­tege of the late anti-U.S. pop­ulist leader Hugo Chavez, and sev­eral coun­tries around the region re­called their am­bas­sadors. Even Venezuela’s most rec­og­niz­able in­ter­na­tional movie star, Edgar Ramirez, joined the calls for protests.

On Wed­nes­day law­mak­ers, some still in­jured from the pre­vi­ous day’s protest, be­gan a sym­bolic process of re­mov­ing Supreme Court jus­tices.

Later that day, the pres­i­dent of a lead­ing Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion party took refuge at the res­i­dence of the Chilean am­bas­sador in Cara­cas and asked for pro­tec­tion.

The Chilean For­eign Min­istry said Roberto En­riquez, pres­i­dent of the COPEI Chris­tian Demo­crat op­po­si­tion party, had been granted guest sta­tus there. The party said other COPEI lead­ers had been arrested in re­cent days and ac­cused of trea­son. Hu­man rights groups say Venezuela is hold­ing more than 100 po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers.

Cara­cas saw two sim­i­larly large anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions last fall, but pro­test­ers on Thurs­day said they thought this time might be dif­fer­ent, with steady protests com­bined with es­ca­lat­ing in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism and rapidly wors­en­ing short­ages.

“This time we are not go­ing to let up the pres­sure. I can’t be­lieve the gov­ern­ment has been sit­ting with its arms crossed watch­ing this coun­try just fall apart,” main­te­nance worker Freddy Munoz said as he ate a tamarind slush to cool down.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Tear gas was fired on demon­stra­tors in Cara­cas, Venezuela, on Thurs­day. Protests have erupted nearly ev­ery day in the South Amer­i­can coun­try since the Supreme Court is­sued a rul­ing nul­li­fy­ing congress last week.

Venezue­lans who fear so­cial­ist Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro is try­ing to form a dic­ta­tor­ship chased away riot po­lice dur­ing a protest Thurs­day in Cara­cas.

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