Anti-government demonstrators in Venezuela’s capital Caracas have clashed for almost two hours with riot police who finally subdued them after President Nicolas Maduro’s security forces cracked down.
The university students, many of them hooded, hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails, pulled up manhole covers, and piled up trash as makeshift barricades on Saturday.
Police finally used tear gas and their riot vehicles to clear the usually busy areas, sending the demonstrators scurrying.
Venezuela has seen almost daily anti-government demonstrations over violent crime, shortages of essential goods such as toilet paper, and soaring inflation, in the most serious challenge yet for Maduro since he succeeded Hugo Chavez as president last year.
At least 28 people have died, 400 more have been injured and nearly 1,300 others have been arrested in the student-led protests launched on February 4 in San Cristobal, in the west of Venezuela, and later spread to Caracas and several other cities.
There have been 41 investigations opened against police for alleged human rights violations.
Earlier on Saturday, hundreds of supporters of Maduro’s leftist government staged a colourful rally in Caracas.
“The people and the armed forces are on the streets defending the Bolivarian revolution and the legacy of Hugo Chavez, the country and our constitution,” said Diosdado Cabello, National Assembly speaker, sporting a coat in Venezuela’s national colors of yellow, blue and red.
Many of the pro-government supporters held up Venezuelan flags and wore red, the colour closely associated with Chavez and his Bolivarian Revolution, while armed forces members joined in the rally.
The Popular Will, a prominent opposition party, called for a rival demonstration in another part of Caracas, “to repudiate the brutal onslaught of state security and pro-government [vigilante] groups against demonstrators”.