8 March 2014, 22:05

Venezuelans return to streets amid record murder rates, food shortage

Venezuelans return to streets amid record murder rates, food shortage

Venezuelans returned to the streets in protest Saturday, while the government continued to celebrate a diplomatic victory in the Organization of American States. Students called Saturday's demonstration the "empty pots march" to highlight Venezuelans' growing frustration with shortages of some everyday items.

Armed with cooking pots in a potent symbol of Venezuela's chronic food shortage, thousands took to the streets Saturday in the latest public rally against the government of President Nicolas Maduro

In Caracas, the march was scheduled to end at the country's Food Ministry, but the evening before Caracas' mayor announced that he had not authorized the march.

Hundreds of riot police and National Guardsmen were posted in the area Saturday morning.

President Nicolas Maduro was scheduled to appear at a separate event recognizing the international day of the woman.

The protests have been joined by mostly middle-class Venezuelans fed up with inflation that reached 56 percent last year, the shortages of items such as flour, cooking oil and toilet paper, and one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Late Friday in Washington, the Organization of American States approved a declaration that rejected violence and called for justice for the 21 people the government says have died in weeks of street protests.

The resolution also offered "full support" for the Venezuelan government's peace initiative, in which the opposition has so far refused to participate. Student and political opposition leaders, one of whom is jailed, have refused to engage in dialogue with the government until all jailed protesters are released.

Twenty-nine countries voted in favor of the declaration, but the United States, Panama and Canada voted against it at the conclusion of 15 hours of debate spread over two days.

Venezuelans to march on Saturday against country's chronic food shortage

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.

Read also:

Panama warns Venezuela on $1 billion debt

Venezuela and Panama: now foes?

Latin American presidents to discuss Venezuela unrest next week

At least 21 killed in Venezuela anti-government protests

Voice of Russia, AFP, AP


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