Venezuelans gather for ‘mother of all protests’

Caracas: Venezuelans took to the streets on Wednesday for massive demonstrations for and against President Nicolas Maduro, whose push to tighten his grip on power has triggered deadly unrest that has escalated the country’s political and economic crisis.
Thousands of Maduro opponents streamed to 26 rally points around Caracas ahead of what their leaders vow will be the “mother of all protests” calling for the leftist president’s ouster.
Wearing white and brandishing the red, blue and yellow of Venezuela’s flag, the protesters planned to march on the city centre — a pro-government bastion where red-clad Maduro supporters were massing for a counter-demonstration.
The rival demos come after two weeks of violent protests that have left five people dead and dozens wounded, according to officials.
Sowing fears of more violence, Maduro has urged his supporters, the military, and civilian militias to defend the socialist “revolution” launched by his predecessor Hugo Chavez in 1999.
It was unclear whether rival demonstrators would come face to face. Soldiers blocked key roads into the capital, and some 20 subway stations were closed.
Opposition leaders accused the authorities of trying to intimidate them with the heavy security presence.
They accuse the security forces of repression and the government of sending groups of armed thugs to beat up protesters. It is set to be the biggest day of protests since Venezuela’s crisis escalated on March 30, when the Supreme Court tried to take over the powers of the National Assembly.
The assembly has been the only lever of power Maduro’s camp does not control since the opposition won a landslide in legislative elections in 2015. 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 cannon.— AFP