Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela crisis: Tear gas fired at anti-Maduro protest

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionWyre Davies was covering the protest when it turned violent

Venezuelan police have fired tear gas at anti-government protesters in Caracas demanding a recall referendum on embattled President Nicolas Maduro.

Thousands have marched in several cities in what is expected to be the biggest wave of opposition rallies.

Mr Maduro has rejected a referendum drive amid growing discontent with the country's spiralling economic crisis.

He has announced a 60-day state of emergency, giving soldiers and police wider powers.

In the third day of demonstrations in a week, the opposition called for a march on the headquarters of the National Electoral Council (CNE), in Caracas.

What has gone wrong in Venezuela?

Left in the dark as crisis deepens

But security forces were out in force, and used tear gas to prevent protesters from reaching the building. Some demonstrators threw stones and bottles in response.

At least four people were reportedly arrested.

In the morning rush hour, 14 underground stations were closed in the capital. Officials said the closures were caused by technical issues but opponents said it was a government effort to prevent people from joining their demonstrations.

What's life like in Venezuela?

Image copyright Reuters
  • Economy shrank 5.7% last year
  • Inflation could hit 700% this year, according to the International Monetary Fund
  • Heavily dependent on oil - 96% of its export revenues are reported to come from the commodity
  • There is an acute shortage of basic goods and medicine, with thousands having to face long queues everyday to buy food
  • Government has announced a two-day working week for the public sector in an effort to overcome a serious energy crisis. There are also daily 4-hour power cuts across the country

Venezuela country profile

The opposition blames the policies of Mr Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, for an economic crisis made worse by falling oil prices.

"You can't have a normal life if you don't have any food and if you get sick, you don't have any medicines if you have to go to the hospital to have an operation," Judith Cabrera told the BBC.

But Mr Maduro accuses the country's elite of sabotaging the economy for political ends.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Riot police fired tear gas against demonstrators in Caracas
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Demonstrations have been mostly peaceful

He was elected in 2013 for a six-year term, following the death of Mr Chavez.

Maduro supporters were also seen in Caracas on Wednesday but in much smaller numbers.

'Let's avoid an explosion'

On 2 May, the electoral body received a petition signed by 1.85 million people demanding a referendum to oust Mr Maduro.

The constitution says a referendum will be called to decide if the president remains in power if a second petition is signed by at least 20% of the electorate, or nearly four million people.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Maduro defeated Mr Capriles in the 2013 vote and was elected for a six-year term

But the government has already made it clear that the referendum will not go ahead.

This has angered the opposition, which says it is seeking a legal and constitutional manner to achieve political change.

"The referendum can be held this year, and you know this. Let's avoid an explosion" of public frustration, opposition leader Henrique Capriles said at Wednesday's demonstration.

On Friday, Mr Maduro issued a decree declaring a state of emergency for 60 days, renewable for an equal period of time.

He said he needed the extra powers conceded by the decree to tackle what he said were threats to domestic and external security and to deal with the political and economic crisis.

More on this story