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Venezuelan opposition vows to keep up pressure on Maduro

Published 01/09/2016

Riot police face opposition activists marching in Caracas, on September 1, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
Riot police face opposition activists marching in Caracas, on September 1, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
A person holds up a poster that reads in Spanish 'Wanted for destroying the country. Maduro and Cabello. Reward: A free Venezuela' (AP)

Venezuela's opposition is vowing to keep up pressure on President Nicolas Maduro after flooding the streets of Caracas with demonstrators in its biggest show of force in years.

Protesters filled dozens of city blocks in what was dubbed the "taking of Caracas" to pressure electoral authorities to allow a recall referendum against President Maduro this year.

Protesters, dressed mostly in white and carrying Venezuelan flags, chanted: "It's going to fall, it's going to fall, the government is going to fall."

The build-up to the protest was tense. Mr Maduro's government jailed several prominent activists, deployed security forces across the city and warned of bloodshed.

There were few immediate signs of violence, though Mr Maduro told a much smaller rally of state workers and hard-core supporters that opponents are plotting a coup such as the one that briefly toppled his late predecessor Hugo Chavez in 2002.

He said authorities had arrested people possessing military fatigues and C4 explosives, and who had plans to fire upon the crowds dressed as national guard members..

"Today we've defeated a coup attempt that sought to fill Venezuela and Caracas with violence and death," Mr Maduro told his supporters without providing details about the accusations.

"We're still looking for several criminals that paid to massacre the people."

Caracas political analyst Dimitris Pantoulas said the "warlike" language may have actually energised opponents who otherwise might be on holiday or, at a time of economic crisis, standing in long lines for food.

"The government made a big mistake by throwing fuel onto the flames," said Mr Pantoulas.

As the rally was wrapping up, the head of the opposition Democratic Unity alliance outlined the next steps in its campaign to force Mr Maduro from office.

"Today is the beginning of the definitive stage of our struggle," Jesus Torrealba told supporters.

He called for a nationwide demonstration of pot-banging Thursday night to protest over growing hunger.

There are also plans for two more street protests, including one on September 14 to coincide with the arrival of heads of state from around the world for a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement taking place on the Caribbean island of Margarita.


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