Venezuela security forces on Tuesday clashed with anti-government protesters seeking, in part, to remove justices from the Supreme Court accused of unconstitutionally favoring the ruling party, while supporting lawmakers locked in a bitter dispute with the administration of President Nicolas Maduro and the Supreme Court.
Previously, the opposition-controlled National Assembly had called for the march ahead of a vote by lawmakers to remove members of the country’s top court, less than a week after judges attempted to seize the power of Congress. The protest was the most violent since hundreds of thousands flooded the capital last year demanding the embattled president’s ouster.
Tuesday’s vote, however, was canceled after national guardsmen blocked the marchers as they attempted to cross Caracas’s main avenue, using teargas, pepper spray and water cannons to disperse the crowds. Ramon Muchacho, mayor of the Caracas Municipality of Chacao - an opposition stronghold - reported nine injuries including a gunshot victim, after the clashes with police and a rival protest by government sympathizers.
Security forces, including the Bolivarian National Police, or PNB, and the Venezuelan National Guard, or GNB, fired tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons in attempts to disperse protesters in Caracas.
The gunshot was captured on the following video clip taken by a local activist.
URGENTE colectivos disparan nuestra manifestacion pacifica estamos en la autopista Auxilio! pic.twitter.com/TXweZe2IuI— Lilian Tintori (@liliantintori) April 4, 2017
Other clips also captured the noise of gunfire in the background.
It was unclear if the shooting was an isolated incident, and whether the national guard have now been given instructions to shoot at protesters, an escalation that would likely result in a violent mass uprising.
"PNB officials throwing tear gas and pepper against the demonstrators, especially affecting older adults," the opposition-controlled National Assembly legislature said in a statement.
According to UPI, there were two protests on Tuesday: one called for by the opposition and one in support of President Nicolas Maduro's regime, most of whom were made up of dozens of people moving through Caracas on motorcycles. The opposition demonstration was planned as a march from Caracas' Plaza Venezuela to the National Assembly's building, which is about a 3-mile march. But as the opposition prepared to participate, authorities closed several of Caracas' subway stations and set up security checkpoints and roadblocks. Officials closed off access to Plaza Venezuela, opposition members said.
Clashes ensued as security forces attempted to repel protesters, some of whom began to throw rocks and other objects at the security officials. The Venezuelan opposition accused Maduro's regime of preventing a peaceful protest from occurring. "Hundreds of police and guards move to block access to Caracas for a mobilization, but against insecurity not a single one moves!" Henrique Capriles Radonski, governor of Venezuela's Miranda state and a key opposition leader, said in a statement Tuesday.
As discussed last week, the protests come after Venezuela's Supreme Tribunal of Justice, or TSJ, last week said it would assume the National Assembly's duties - a ruling it later reversed, particularly after Venezuela's chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega, expressed "great concern" about the measure, which she said violated the constitution. The opposition said the TSJ's move was akin to a coup d'etat in favor of Maduro's regime.
The South American country is facing a political, security and economic crisis in which basic goods such as food and medicine are in short supply, unavailable or unaffordable. Venezuela has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. The opposition's efforts to remove Maduro from power have been dismantled by the TSJ, which is accused of ruling in favor of Maduro's regime.
Today's protests are expected to continue. Earlier on Tuesday, President Maduro, speaking on state television, pledged to continue governing regardless of opposition actions.
“Venezuela’s fascist ring wing got orders from the north to fill the streets with blood and violence. Today they failed to flood the streets of Caracas” said Maduro. “I won’t waste time on this oligarchy.”
Maduro also said in the case of eventual elections, he expects the ruling party to easily defeat the opposition; he didn’t specify what elections he was referring to.