Opposition street protests continue in Venezuela, although with lower turnouts and intensity than earlier this week.
There were reports of street protests in some Venezuelan cities last night, including in the capital Caracas. In the city of Valencia protests turned violent, with two vehicles set on fire and eleven arrests made, local authorities confirmed.
The incidents come after four were killed, 66 wounded and over 70 arrests made during violent clashes in Wednesday in Caracas and other parts of the country.
Recent opposition mobilisations have responded to right-wing leader Leopoldo Lopez’s call for supporters to force the government’s “exit” by “going out onto the streets”. Opposition protesters have complained of insecurity and shortages as reasons for their discontent, while radical opposition activists have engaged in violent acts in some cities over the past two weeks.
Yesterday interior affairs minister Miguel Rodriguez repeated government claims that street violence in Caracas on Wednesday was perpetrated by extremist opposition groups, which he called “a vanguard trained to generate acts of chaos and violence”.
He argued that the street violence was part of a “conspiracy” from the hard-line opposition within and outside the country, and said the aim of the alleged conspiracy was to “drive the country to an irrational, unconstitutional and violent ousting [of the government]”.
Rodriguez called on the “democratic opposition” to “disassociate itself” with extremist opposition groups, and said the government was open to dialogue with opposition elected officials and other groups “for peace, life and security”.
Last night President Nicolas Maduro commented on the investigations underway into the violent clashes in Caracas on Wednesday. He said the deaths of an opposition protester, Basil Da Costa, and a pro-government activist, Juan Montoya, were both caused “by the same gun”.
Maduro showed videos of the street violence on national television, and said that those engaging in the acts had been identified. “Under the orders of the federal prosecutor we’re going to find them. For there to be peace there must be justice, there’s not going to be impunity,” he said in a national broadcast.
The Venezuelan president has also called on supporters to march in Caracas on Saturday. “The whole people of Caracas will mobilise against fascism, violence and coup plotting to demonstrate on the street that what we want is peace, living-together, democracy and socialism,” he said.
Authorities are also still searching for Lopez, who has an arrest warrant out against him for his alleged role in instigating and perpetrating violent acts on Wednesday.
Lopez has stated on Twitter he is still in the country, and denies the charges against him. However Diosdado Cabello, the president of the National Assembly, today claimed that Lopez has a flight booked to Bogota, Colombia on Saturday morning.
“You’re not going to flee, coward,” Cabello stated.
The moderate wing of the opposition, now led by state governor Henrique Capriles, has distanced itself from the opposition’s radical wing and Wednesday’s violence.
In a press conference yesterday Capriles criticised hard-line opposition figures who called him a “traitor” for not joining the campaign to force Maduro’s resignation.
“We’re going to channel discontent, but I’m not going to lie to you, the conditions do not exist for the government’s exit…Venezuela is tired of so much violence,” said the former presidential candidate.
However today Capriles and the opposition’s Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition turned on the government, accusing it of supporting “paramilitary groups” and causing Wednesday’s violence.
“The problem isn’t students who protest peacefully, the chaos that we experience is due to the government and its paramilitary groups,” Capriles declared.
MUD demands laid out today include the release of students it claims have been “unjustly” arrested following recent clashes, the disarming of alleged pro-government “paramilitary groups”, and to cease making what the MUD calls “irresponsible” comments about a possible opposition coup plot.
The opposition also calls the accusations against Leopoldo Lopez “unfounded”. Both the MUD and the government call for those responsible for Wednesday’s violence to be identified and brought to justice.
Colombian TV channel pulled from the air
There is also controversy in Venezuela following the government’s decision on Wednesday to pull Colombian news channel NTN24 from the country’s cable services due to the manner in which it was covering the day’s activities.
Maduro defended the decision yesterday, arguing that the channel “tried to transmit the anxiety of a state coup like April 2002”. The president said he would, “defend [social] calm in Venezuela”, and that “no one from abroad” was going to come and “perturb” the country.
The decision provoked an angry response from NTN24 and some sectors within Venezuela. Claudia Garisatti, NTN24 director-general, said that decision was “openly, in the censorship of the free press, a violation of the right citizens have to inform themselves, and an attack on freedom of expression”.
Pro-government legislator Tania Díaz responded to the criticisms yesterday, stating that CNN and other international channels continue to transmit freely in Venezuela.
“There isn’t censorship…what wasn’t permitted this time, because we Venezuelans have a painful and lamentable experience of this, is that there was a live channel calling for agitation that was causing deaths in the centre of the city. That’s a very different situation,” argued the lawmaker.
A range of international organisations have issued statements on Wednesday’s violent clashes. Representatives of the United Nations (UN), Organisation of American States (OAS) and the European Union (EU) have all condemned the violence and called for “dialogue” between the government and opposition.
The U.S. State Department focused on the Venezuelan government, stating its “worry” about an alleged “weakening of democratic institutions in Venezuela”.
Venezuela’s leftist allies in the region have issued supportive statements, warning against opposition “destabilisation attempts”.
Solidarity groups such as the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (UK) and Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network have also issued statements, arguing “there is no justification for violent opposition to the elected government in Venezuela”.