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29 February 2024

Venezuela opposition gears up for new protest


Venezuelans will march again on Saturday against the country's chronic food shortage, one of the major grievances in a wave of protests shadowing President Nicolas Maduro's government.

At least 20 people have now died in Venezuela since protests first erupted a month ago, giving Maduro his biggest test since succeeding late leader Hugo Chavez almost a year ago.

The new rally was called by the country's most prominent opposition leader, two-time presidential election runner-up Henrique Capriles, who lost to Maduro by a whisker in the April 2013 election.

Hours before the march, Capriles charged on Twitter that Maduro wanted to "put obstacles" against the demonstration.

"Our people have the right to protest and we will do it in peace," he said.

Some of the demonstrations have drawn tens of thousands of people, and Capriles' participation could attract a large crowd.

The rally, which coincides with International Women's Day, will include a march by stay-at-home moms who will bang empty pots - a traditional form of protest across Latin America.

Venezuela's protest movement has been marked by regular clashes between security forces and radical protesters. Dozens of claims of police abuse have been made.

Capriles has accused Maduro of promoting a "confrontation of people against people" after the socialist leader called on his followers to "enforce order."

"Little candle that is lit, little candle that we put out with our people," Maduro said this week.

The violence claimed two more lives on Thursday when a man who tried to dismantle an opposition barricade in Caracas and a riot police officer were shot dead.

The protests began early last month as a student movement but it has since been joined by opposition figures, all fed up with Venezuela's runaway murder rate, chronic food shortages and high inflation of 56 percent.

But the opposition has been divided about the tactic.

The former of Caracas' Chacao district, Leopoldo Lopez, spearheaded a strategy called "the exit" to push for Maduro's resignation.

Lopez gave himself up to police in dramatic fashion on February 18 in front of thousands of supporters after the authorities accused him of inciting violence.

Capriles has distanced himself from "the exit" movement, warning that "the conditions are not there to pressure for the government's exit."

The former candidate, who officially lost to Maduro by 1.5 percentage points, has said that to succeed, the protests need the support of the poorer neighborhoods - Chavez's, and now Maduro's, base.

Analysts say that while Maduro is facing the biggest challenge of his young presidency, his government is sturdy enough to withstand the pressure.