Venezuelan security forces fired tear gas Saturday to disperse demonstrators in Caracas outraged by massive power outages that have kept much of the country in darkness since early March.
AFP journalists on the scene said the security forces blocked opposition protesters from concentrating at certain points in the western side of the capital city.
The latest power outage hit just after 7 pm Friday, affecting Caracas and at least 20 of the oil producing country’s 23 states.
The blackouts have hit Venezuela hard – worsening the already-dire economic and living conditions in a country that is witnessing a political showdown between the head of the country’s leftist government, Nicolas Maduro, and opposition leader Juan Guaido.
The United States and more than 50 other countries recognize Guaido as interim president. Russia, along with China, back Maduro.
The blackouts that began on March 7 have affected the water service, transportation, and telephone and internet services across the country. The most recent blackout halted activities between Monday and Thursday.
“Our lights go out at every moment, we don’t have internet service… the water service has been terrible for more than a year, and with these blackouts things have gotten a lot worse,” said a protester at a Caracas demo who did not want to give her name. She was in a crowd with her neighbors protesting by banging pots.
“I refuse to leave Venezuela, because I am certain that there is so much here to fight for,” said another marcher who identified herself only as Andrea. “We are going to stay in the street fighting.”
She said that while Caracas outages were bad, in many states they are much worse, making it impossible for millions to use refrigerators.
Maduro has blamed the previous outages on sabotage, but experts have said infrastructure crumbling from years of neglect is a likelier culprit than outside interference.
Malnutrition and disease are on the rise as living conditions plummet in the oil-producing Latin American nation, which is spiraling ever deeper into economic chaos during the protracted political crisis.
Guaido moved to keep the pressure on the Maduro government by calling for a new mass protest.
“We are organising Operation Freedom. And we want everyone in the streets around Venezuela on April 6,” Guaido said at a rally in Los Teques, not far from Caracas.
In response, Maduro also called another new mass counter-demonstration “to say no to US terrorist imperialism.”
He also called on the “colectivos” – pro-government enforcers that the opposition describe as armed paramilitary thugs – to have “zero tolerance” for violence at the protests.
“They are inciting people with hatred. We are calling for love. We are calling for peace,” said Maduro’s social movements chief Jesus Camargo.