(Repeats earlier story with no changes to text)
By Brian Ellsworth
CARACAS, April 27 Protesters blocked a highway
in Venezuela's capital Caracas for nearly eight hours this week
in an effort to show the opposition's dedication to civil
disobedience as their main tool to resist President Nicolas
But by the end of the afternoon, hooded youths had filled
the highway with burning debris, looted a government storage
site, torched two trucks and stolen medical equipment from an
"This is no peaceful protest, they're damaging something
that belongs to the state and could be used to help one of their
own family members," said Wilbani Leon, head of a paramedic team
that services Caracas highways, showing the damage to the
Anti-government demonstrations entering their fourth week
are being marred by street violence despite condemnation by
opposition leaders and clear instructions that the protests
should be peaceful.
Such daytime violence also increasingly presages late-night
looting of businesses in working-class areas of Caracas, a sign
that political protests could extend into broad disruptions of
public order driven by growing hunger.
The opposition's so-far unsuccessful struggle to contain its
violent factions has helped Maduro depict it as a group of thugs
plotting to overthrow him the way opposition leaders briefly
ousted late socialist leader Hugo Chavez in 2002.
CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE, VIOLENT PROTEST
The unrest has killed at least 29 people so far and was
triggered by a Supreme Court decision in March to briefly assume
powers of the opposition Congress. Maduro's opponents say the
former bus driver and union leader who took office four years
ago has turned into a dictator.
The vast majority of demonstrators shun the violence that
usually starts when marches are winding down or after security
forces break up protests.
That gives way to small groups of protesters, many with
faces covered, who set fire to trash and rip gates off private
establishments or drag sheet metal from construction sites to
They clash with security forces in confused melees. Police
and troops break up the demonstrations by firing copious amounts
of tear gas that often floods nearby apartment buildings and in
some cases health clinics.
The opposition has blamed the disturbances on infiltrators
planted by the ruling Socialist Party to delegitimize protests,
which demand Maduro hold delayed elections and respect the
autonomy of the opposition-run Congress.
But even before rallies devolve into street violence,
tensions frequently surface between demonstrators seeking
peaceful civil disobedience and those looking for confrontation
- some of whom are ordinary Venezuelans angry over chronic
product shortages and triple-digit inflation.
"If we just ask him 'Mr. President, would you be so kind as
to leave?' he's not going to leave," said Hugo Nino, 38, who use
to work at a bakery but lost his job after Maduro passed a
resolution boosting state control over bread production.
"Resistance, protesting with anger, that's how we have to do
it," he said.
He and some others at the Caracas highway sit-in on Monday
morning bristled at opposition leaders' calls for non-violence.
An unrelated group of people collected tree trunks and metal
debris to barricade the road. They covered one section with oil,
making it dangerous for police motorcycles to cross it.
TRUCKS ON FIRE
By 4 p.m., opposition legislators had started walking
through the crowd with megaphones, asking that people leave the
protest as had been planned.
The thinning crowd remained calm until a tear gas canister
was heard being fired in the distance. Demonstrators reacted by
banging on a metal highway barrier with pipes and rocks.
A small group then broke into a government compound that
houses cargo trucks and highway-repair materials, and made off
with cables, pipes and wooden pallets and other materials for
The team of paramedics that works in the unguarded compound
did nothing to stop them, out of what they said was concern for
their personal safety. They did halt two youths trying to steal
a car with an eye toward setting it alight.
The demonstrators later set fire to two cargo trucks.
One teenager, stripped from the waist up and with a t-shirt
covering his face, urged nearby reporters to take pictures of
the blaze but drew the line at appearing himself.
"Delete that video," he said, pointing to a Reuters reporter
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer;
Christian Plumb and Andrew Hay)