| CARACAS, April 22
CARACAS, April 22 Venezuela's opposition
prepared to march in silence on Saturday to honor a dozen people
killed in three weeks of protests demanding that the government
of President Nicolas Maduro hold delayed elections and address a
growing economic crisis.
Twelve people have been killed in a renewed wave of
demonstrations this month in incidents primarily involving
security forces or armed civilians. Another eight were
electrocuted in a looting incident that took place following a
Opposition leaders blame a heavy-handed crackdown by
security forces, who have arrested hundreds of people and on
several occasions flooded hospitals and clinics with tear gas.
Ruling Socialist Party officials say the demonstrations, in
which protesters throw rocks at police and block streets with
burning debris, are violent disruptions of public order meant to
overthrow the government.
Saturday's protest, however, was to be a silent one out of
respect for those who died.
"(The demonstration) today shall be a thundering and
historic silence that beats on the conscience of the oppressor,"
wrote opposition legislator Miguel Pizarro via Twitter.
Marches are planned for cities around the country and in the
capital Caracas, where the opposition will gather in 20
different places and march to the headquarters of the country's
Anger over the OPEC nation's triple-digit inflation and
Soviet-style product shortages boiled over after the
government-leaning Supreme Court last month briefly assumed the
powers of Congress, triggering accusations that Maduro was
building a dictatorship.
The court walked back the measure after international
condemnation, but Maduro's government further fueled the
protests by barring the opposition's most popular politician,
Henrique Capriles, from holding office for 15 years.
The opposition says the elections council should call
elections for governors that were supposed to be held last year,
and accuse the council of indefinitely delaying them because the
Ruling Socialist party would likely lose in many states.
The next presidential elections are scheduled for late 2018.
Demonstrations have generally started with daytime marches
that are broken up by National Guard troops. They usually
devolve from there into confused melees between troops and
hooded protesters that stretch well into the evening.
The last week has seen an increase in late-night looting in
working class areas. Unrest that began late on Thursday night in
the Caracas neighborhood of El Valle left eleven people dead
from either electrocution or gunfire.
The OPEC nation's economy has been in free-fall since the
collapse of oil prices in 2014. Once a generous oil-financed
welfare state, Venezuelan consumers now struggle to obtain basic
food and medicine.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)