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Venezuela still beset by protests

Anti-government protesters take cover during clashes with riot police in Caracas, Venezuela, on Saturday. (Associated Press)
Anti-government protesters take cover during clashes with riot police in Caracas, Venezuela, on Saturday. (Associated Press)
Joshua Goodman Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelans on both sides of the nation’s bitter political divide took to the streets on Saturday after two weeks of mass protests that have President Nicolas Maduro scrambling to squash an increasingly militant opposition movement.

In Caracas, tens of thousands of opponents of President Nicolas Maduro filled several city blocks in their biggest rally to date against his 10-month-old government. Across town, at the presidential palace, Maduro addressed a much-smaller crowd of mostly female supporters dressed in the red of his socialist party.

Maduro said he won’t pull security forces off the streets until the opposition abandons what he calls a “fascist” conspiracy to oust him from power.

The dueling protests capped a violent week in which the government jailed Leopoldo Lopez, a fiery hard-liner who roused the opposition following its defeat in December’s mayoral elections, and dozens of other student activists. The violence has left at least 10 people dead on both sides and injured more than 100.

A few small clashes that erupted between government opponents and state security forces after the opposition rally broke up were visually impressive, but resulted in only five injuries.

In a pattern seen in past demonstrations, dozens of stragglers erected barricades of trash and other debris and threw rocks and bottles at police and National Guardsmen. Troops responded with volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets to prevent the students from reaching a highway.

There were also clashes in San Cristobal, a remote city on the western border with Colombia that has seen some of the worst violence, but most opposition marches across the country ended peacefully.

The protests claimed their 10th fatality, when a 23-year-old student in the provincial city of Valencia was pronounced dead Saturday after an eight-hour surgery for brain injuries suffered at a demonstration earlier in the week.

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