Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuelans stop traffic in anti-government protests

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Media captionProtesters blocked traffic with barricades, as Irene Caselli reports

Anti-government protesters in Venezuela have erected barricades in the capital, Caracas.

They placed burning rubbish and furniture on main roads in an attempt to bar access to the city.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles had earlier asked his supporters not to follow a call for a "national blockade" circulated on social media.

The blockades are the latest in a series of opposition protests in which 13 people have died.

There have been reports of similar blockades in the cities of Maracaibo and Valencia.

Protesters also banged pots and pans in the early hours of the morning to show their opposition to the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

They say they will continue with their wave of protests, which started more than two weeks ago, until Mr Maduro resigns.

More than 130 people have been injured and an opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, has been arrested on charges of inciting violence.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Roadblocks have also been erected in San Cristobal, in Tachira state
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Leopoldo Lopez handed himself in to the authorities during a rally on 18 February
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Lopez's wife has been calling for the release of her husband at marches attended by thousands

Spreading discontent

The recent unrest started in the western states of Tachira and Merida, where students took to the streets angered by Venezuela's high crime rate and economic woes, including record inflation and shortages of basic goods.

After the arrest of a number of student leaders, the protests quickly spread to the capital, Caracas.

A largely peaceful march led by Mr Lopez snaked through the streets of the capital on 12 February demanding their release.

After the bulk of the demonstrators had returned home, a small group clashed with police.

In the melee that followed, three people were shot dead by unidentified gunmen.

The opposition blamed pro-government motorcycle gangs for the killings, while Mr Maduro said the attackers were "fascists".

Since then, another 10 people have also died in protest-related violence across the country.

The government has blamed Mr Lopez for the unrest and accused him of trying to topple the government with the help of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The government has mobilised its supporters and called for rival pro-government marches
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Maduro has dismissed the protests as "right-wing agitation"

After an arrest warrant was issued for him, Mr Lopez handed himself in to the authorities during a march attended by thousands of his supporters.

He has since been charged with intentional arson, inciting violence, damage to public property and conspiracy.

Since his arrest on Tuesday, there have been daily demonstrations demanding his release.

There have also been rival marches by supporters of the government, which have also drawn thousands of people.

President Maduro, meanwhile, has called for a "national peace conference" to be held this week.

Mr Maduro had announced he would meet opposition leader Henrique Capriles on Monday as part of a routine gathering with governors and mayors.

But Mr Capriles refused to attend "due to the continuation of political violence".

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