Soldiers storm Venezuelan protesters’ stronghold

CARACAS,  (Reuters) – Venezuelan troops stormed a Caracas square yesterday to evict protesters who turned it into a stronghold during six weeks of demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro.

National Guard soldiers fired tear gas and turned water cannons on hundreds of demonstrators who hurled rocks and some petrol bombs before abandoning Plaza Altamira, in affluent east Caracas, which has been the scene of daily clashes.

Some soldiers rode into the square on motorbikes, rounding up a dozen demonstrators, Reuters witnesses saw. One flashed a “V” for victory as he was driven away, another shouted “Help!”

The troops then began demolishing protesters’ barricades, apparently carrying out Maduro’s vow to retake the square.

“We are going to carry on liberating spaces taken by the protesters,” the 51-year-old successor to late leader Hugo Chavez said in a speech at a pro-government rally in a different part of Caracas yesterday.

Militant opposition leaders and students have been urging Venezuelans onto the streets to protest issues ranging from crime and shortages of goods to the presence of Cuban advisers in Venezuela’s army and other state institutions.

Earlier yesterday, thousands marched towards the Carlota military air base in the latest daily demonstration against the socialist government. The protests began in early February.

“I spend five or six hours in a queue just to buy two packets of flour, or two bottles of cooking oil,” said pensioner Pedro Perez, 64, in the opposition rally.

“Also, I’m protesting over insecurity and the lies this government tells Venezuelans, bringing Cuban soldiers here … This is an ungovernable country, we can’t carry on like this.”

In another day of rallies around the nation, thousands of government supporters also marched peacefully in Caracas to praise the government’s food welfare policies.

“We are going to strengthen the brotherhood between the Venezuelan and Cuban peoples,” Maduro told that rally in response to the opposition march’s anti-Cuba slogans.

 

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