Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela opposition launches protests to oust Maduro

Opposition supporters take part in a rally against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, March 12, 2016. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Opposition supporters carried and wore the red, yellow and blue of the Venezuelan flag.

Venezuela's opposition has held a day of protests to launch a new campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

Crowds marched in Caracas and other cities to express their anger at the country's economic crisis and called on the president to stand down.

Mr Maduro led a protest in the capital against the renewal of US sanctions on top Venezuelan officials.

The opposition has made clear it intends to use street power to force Mr Maduro from office.

Saturday's protests marked the launch of Venezuela's opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD).

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The opposition is demanding the resignation of President Maduro

One opposition protester Enrique Alvarado in Caracas told Reuters news agency: "The people have come to the street and will not return to their houses until Nicolas Maduro resigns."

Another marcher, Jose Zambrano, said: "I came because what we want is change, because we cannot continue standing in line to buy medicine, food, for everything, for car parts, for everything."

Last week the coalition announced it would use all options available to try to remove President Maduro, including a recall referendum and a constitutional amendment reducing the presidential term from six to four years.

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The opposition won a landslide victory in last December's elections but it has seen its authority hamstrung by the Supreme Court which it says supports the government.

As a result, the MUD has placed special emphasis on protests as a way to put force Mr Maduro's resignation.

Correspondents say this is a potentially explosive path after anti-government demonstrations in 2014 left 43 people dead. This led to the arrest of a number of opposition leaders on charges of murder and inciting violence.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The opposition rally was addressed by MUD secretary Jesus Torrealba

President Maduro led his own rally in Caracas, ostensibly against US sanctions and what the government regards as interference in Venezuela's affairs.

"We have to reject President Obama's decree. It is stupid," said protester Raiza Sucre who had arrived in one of the official buses that had brought government supporters to the march.

The sanctions were first put in place a year ago after a government crack-down on opposition leaders.

The protests come against the backdrop of a deep economic crisis made worse by the crash in the price of oil which long funded the Chavez and Maduro government's spending on social welfare.

Venezuela holds the world's largest crude reserves but its economy contracted 5.7% last year.

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