Thousands of Venezuelans have marched in protest against the banning from politics of opposition leader Henrique Capriles for 15 years. Capriles said today he was barred from seeking office for 15 years.
Right-wing opposition supporters took to the streets of Caracas and other cities in Venezuela on Saturday in ongoing violent protests against the government as fears mount of a possible repeat of the February 2014 Guarimbas opposition-led riots which left 43 people dead.
At least 17 people were treated for injuries, said Ramon Muchacho, a Caracas-area mayor where the demonstration took place. Hundreds of police officers and national guards fired tear gas and rubber.
Amid growing global condemnation of Maduro, various Latin American criticized the move against Capriles.Argentina's foreign ministry said in a statement the decision would have a "negative impact" on the right of Venezuelans to choose their leaders. Around a hundred protesters broke into an office of the Supreme Court.
Another pro-government leader, Freddy Bernal, alleged Capriles was inciting protests "looking for a few deaths to set the country alight".
Maduro is struggling under low approval ratings and Soviet-style product shortages, but so far the opposition has failed to find a way around the Socialists' domination of the top court and other state institutions that have found one excuse after another to sideline them.
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The protest movement's immediate goal apparently is to force Maduro to call elections. But with Caracas shutting down for the Easter holiday which Maduro extended by decree for three extra days they appeared to be saving their strength for a major demonstration which has been called for on April 19th. In another intimidation tactic, police also posted on social media mugshots of protesters taken undercover with a request for information about the whereabouts of the unidentified "generators of violence". Leaders in the ruling socialist party have accused the opposition of trying to provoke a bloodbath and its own coup.
Many at Saturday's protest rallied behind Capriles, holding signs with his image. A 19-year-old man was shot dead in violence around protests on Thursday, and a police officer hasbeen arrested.Rights group Penal Forum says nearly 100 people have been arrested during protests in the last few days.
Venezuela has since witnessed near daily protests, by both supporters and opponents of the government.
Government critics say the ban on Capriles is arbitrary and allows the ruling Socialist Party to sideline popular politicians without due process to perpetuate its almost two-decade-long rule.
Capriles had been a leading figure in the fight to recall President Nicholas Maduro, and had been regarded as the opposition's best candidate to defeat Maduro in elections scheduled for next year, the BBC reported. "The need for strong and decisive multilateral action to protect Venezuelans grows more pressing with each passing day", Vivanco said.
"However, it is a risky strategy that will probably backfire", Eurasia Group said in a report Friday.