Venezuelan riot police block opposition march on congress

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan security forces used teargas on Tuesday to prevent protesters led by opposition leader Juan Guaido from marching on the national legislature, which pro-government lawmakers seized control of in January.

Venezuela’s National Assembly President and opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognised as the country’s rightful interim ruler, rises an arm as he takes part in a demonstration in Caracas, Venezuela March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero

The march, attended by several hundred opposition supporters, advanced only a few blocks towards the congress in downtown Caracas before a phalanx of riot police barricaded the road and began firing teargas to disperse the crowd, Reuters witnesses said.

Guaido for weeks had urged Venezuelans to join the march as a way of reviving street protests against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, branded a dictatorship by Washington.The protests surged in 2019 but have waned as the ruling Socialist Party has clung to power.

Tuesday’s march was the opposition’s first since Guaido returned on Feb. 11 from a diplomatic tour that included a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House. It marked another test of Guaido’s capacity to mobilize supporters, who are increasingly weary with his inability to oust Maduro despite a broad U.S. sanctions program and Venezuela’s long-running economic collapse.

After police dispersed the marchers, Guaido said they would head toward a nearby square where lawmakers would hold a congress session in the street.

“We are not going to give the dictatorship the pleasure of generating violence, of wanting to ambush us,” Guaido told reporters during the march, which set off from Caracas’ wealthy Chacao district.

“Today the objective is to reunite in the streets like the powerful majority that we are.”

The protest had been expected to meet stiff resistance from security forces, which were deployed around the country on Monday as part of military exercises ordered by Maduro.

“It once again demonstrates the totalitarian nature of this regime,” said Lawmaker Williams Davila, his face and eyes red from the teargas.

Maduro’s government had called its own separate rallies in downtown Caracas, attended by hundreds of red-shirted supporters. Socialist Party Vice President Diosdado Cabello said on Monday that the opposition’s march was an attempt to rally its flagging energy.

“Every time the right-wing is cornered, they look for events that can raise the excitement of people who stopped being excited a long time ago. They try to create leadership where there is none,” Cabello said.

In January, a group of legislators backed by the Socialist Party installed themselves as the leaders of congress after troops blocked Guaido from attending a vote at which he was expected to be elected to a second term as assembly head.

Opposition lawmakers later re-elected Guaido in an extra-mural session, but they have been largely unable to meet at the legislative palace since then.

More than 50 countries last year recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president following Maduro’s disputed 2018 re-election, which was widely dismissed as fraudulent.

Venezuela this year is slated to hold parliamentary elections, but the opposition has not determined if it will participate due to concerns over free and fair conditions.

Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Vivian Sequera; Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago, Corina Pons, Mayela Armas and Shaylim Valderrama; Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Tom Brown

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