[4/20/17] Venezuela braced for rival demonstrations Wednesday for and against President Nicolas Maduro, whose push to tighten his grip on power has triggered waves of deadly unrest that have escalated the country’s political and economic crisis.
Maduro’s opponents are vowing to stage the “mother of all protests” calling for his ouster, after two weeks of violent demonstrations that have left five people dead and dozens wounded.
Sowing fears of more violence, Maduro has in turn urged his supporters, along with the military and civilian militias, to defend the leftist “revolution” launched by his predecessor Hugo Chavez in 1999.
It is set to be the biggest day of protests since Maduro’s allies tried to strip the power of the opposition-controlled legislature — the only lever of government Maduro’s camp does not hold — and banned opposition leader Henrique Capriles from politics.
The streets of Caracas have seen running battles pitting masked protesters hurling stones and Molotov cocktails against riot police firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons.
The protests have been relatively small so far, with turnout in the thousands.
But the opposition is now hoping to flood the streets with protesters, whom they are urging to remain peaceful.
They plan to march from 26 rally points toward central Caracas, a pro-Maduro bastion and the seat of government. The authorities say they will not allow the protesters into the area, where the rival rally will be held.
Maduro’s camp has vowed not to be outdone by the opposition.
“The whole of Caracas will be held by the revolutionary forces,” said lawmaker Diosdado Cabello, one of the president’s most powerful allies.