Riot police launched tear gas to quell demonstrations as thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets in capital Caracas to protest against President Nicolas Maduro. The protests were triggered after a 15-year office ban was imposed on key opposition leader Henrique Capriles.
Although anti-government campaigners have held similar rallies over the poor economic conditions in Venezuela in the recent past, the latest is said to be the first sustained wave of protests occurring across the country over the past 10 days.
Led by the right-wing opposition bloc – the MUD – the main protests took place in Caracas as thousands of supporters marched towards the city centre breaking police blockade. The protesters were seen carrying Venezuelan flags and anti-Maduro signs as they hurled rocks and sticks at police. Several of them were holding placards decrying Maduro's "dictatorship".
More than a dozen protesters were arrested for attempting to vandalise state buildings. "We need to get out on the street and fight, to tell these people we don't want them," 67-year-old protester, Maria Guedez, was quoted as saying.
Critics said that numerous protesters were injured during the demonstrations. They also claimed that the tear gas used on the people was much more powerful than previous occasions. "The [tear gas] cut their [protesters'] breath, affected the eyesight and caused a huge burning in the skin," said Monica Santamaria, a key figure spearheading the protests.
On Friday, 7 April, the Venezuelan Comptroller General's office ordered that Capriles – a former presidential candidate – could not hold any public office for 15 years due to his "illicit administrative" practices when he was the governor of Miranda.
Capriles criticised the crackdown as a political vendetta as several countries in the region such as Mexico, Argentina and Peru rallied behind the opposition leader. The measure has weakened opposition political parties ahead of the 2018 presidential elections.
Venezuelans are angry with Maduro's government over the chronic shortage of essential goods and skyrocketing inflation. The South American country has been battered by protests over the past several months.