Meanwhile everyone is waiting for Venezuela’s protests to turn violent
More protests are planned in Venezuela today, after Maduro called for direct talks with the US.
LIMA, Peru — The anti-government unrest rocking Venezuela shows no sign of letting up, with the demonstrations and violence now spreading beyond the capital to provincial cities.
Opponents of Venezuela’s leftist government prepared for a mass protest rally in Caracas Saturday, a day after President Nicolas Maduro issued a surprise call for direct talks with the United States.
The risk of violence is high as a march of pro-government “Chavista women” is also scheduled for Saturday in Caracas.
Outside the capital, the Andean cities of Merida and San Cristobal has seen some of the worst upheaval, with locals calling the latter a “war zone” as protesters barricaded streets and threw Molotov cocktails at security forces.
Police reportedly responded with tear gas and water cannons in an attempt to halt the turmoil now entering its third week. Meanwhile, Maduro ordered a battalion ofparatroopers to the troubled city, prompting opposition criticism of a “militarization” of the government response to the unrest.
Inspired by Leopoldo Lopez, the opposition leader now in jail facing charges of instigating the violence, the demonstrators accuse Maduro of authoritarianism, economic mismanagement and a failure to rein in one of the world’s worst violent crime waves.
More from GlobalPost: Venezuela: Why they protest
On Thursday, the violence claimed more lives, bringing the reported death toll now to eight. That included the shooting death of pro-government activist Alexis Martinez, the brother of a ruling party congressman, in the northeastern city of Barquisimeto. He’s the second government supporter to be killed.
Meanwhile, four anti-government protesters have also been shot dead. One elderly woman died of natural causes after an ambulance taking her to the hospital was held up by the demonstrations. A public prosecutor crashed his car after allegedly swerving to avoid a barricade.
No suspects have been identified in any of the killings. But Maduro has said that the same gun was used in two of the slayings, one of an anti-government protester and the other of a government supporter. Maduro, a left-wing populist and political heir to the late Hugo Chavez, has blamed the opposition marchers his administration calls “fascists” for escalating the violence.
Maduro says the protests are part of a “coup d’etat in development” instigated by Washington and conservative ex-Colombian president Alvaro Uribe.
On Friday, Maduro challenged Obama to meet him for talks. “I call a dialogue with you, President Obama … between the patriotic and revolutionary Venezuela and the United States and its government,” he said.
“Accept the challenge and we will start a high-level dialogue and put the truth on the table,” Maduro told a news conference.
The opposition meanwhile is blaming the bloodshed on the “colectivos,” armed pro-government militias established by Chavez in response to the 2002 attempted coup carried out with the apparent blessing of the George W. Bush administration.
Venezuelans were using social media and foreign TV news to track the unfolding violence after local television — which rights groups say is under Maduro’s thumb — largely ignored the mayhem.
Yet the government appears intent on stopping that too. On Thursday, the government cut off San Cristobal’s internet. That follows previous government blocks of images of the turmoil on Twitter.
Read more: http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/venezuela/140221/protests-caracas-maduro-US-talks