Venezuela's Maduro blasts foe for chemical attack comments

Venezuela's Maduro blasts foe for chemical attack comments

Venezuela's Maduro blasts foe for chemical attack comments

Thousands of people in Venezuela's capital are protesting against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, demanding new elections and vowing to stay in the streets during the usually quiet Easter Week.

In some previous demonstrations, government groups have roughed up several opposition leaders and fired rubber bullets and a previously unseen reddish gas at crowds.

After years of protesting with little results, street action had ebbed until a Supreme Court decision in late March to assume the functions of the opposition-led congress sparked outcry, with condemnation at home and overseas.

While that decision has since been reversed, protests have continued against what the opposition describes as a "coup d'etat" against the legislature.

Al Jazeera's Teresa Bo reports.

Opposition leaders slammed the government for arbitrary use of force in breaking up Monday's demonstrations.

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Venezuela erupted Monday in a fifth day of violent protests against President Nicolas Maduro as the United States voiced "grave concern" over moves to stifle one of his main opponents.

"We urge demonstrators to express themselves non-violently and call on government security forces to protect peaceful protest, not prevent it", a U.S. State Department spokesman said Monday.

"Sorry, I'm coughing from all the tear gas because it's been a week of just breathing in tear gas that's also expired", she said.

Another 19-year-old man, Jairo Ortiz, died on Thursday after being shot in the chest when police broke up a protest in Caracas.

Some 188 protesters, majority students, were arrested in the period April 4-8 and 57 are still behind bars, rights group Penal Forum said on Monday.

But the crisis only deepened Friday (7 April) when authorities banned senior opposition figure Henrique Capriles from holding public office.

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"There is no food, no medicines, no nothing", said Venezuelan-American Henry Ettorre.

While heated rhetoric and exaggerated claims are favorite tactics used on both sides of Venezuela's bitter political divide, the singling out of critics in such a forceful way by Maduro is frequently a prelude to legal action.

The government has come under increased pressure from American and European countries, who have the condemned both the violence in Venezuela and the ban on Mr Capriles.

Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader who accuses foreign countries of "meddling", traveled to communist ally Cuba on Sunday for a meeting of the leftist ALBA bloc.

Most of the protesters are peaceful and say street action is their only option after authorities a year ago blocked a recall referendum to remove Maduro.

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