Protests in Venezuela continue as dozens remain jailed

CARACAS — President Nicolas Maduro’s government kept dozens of student protesters behind bars Friday as unrest continued across Venezuela after this week’s deadly political violence.

Student demonstrators gathered again in various cities to denounce repression of protests as well as a litany of complaints against Maduro, from crime to shortages of basic goods.

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Despite a presidential ban on protests, about 200 people converged Friday morning in Caracas’s Plaza Altamira, a heartland of opposition protests.

“We’re going to stay out in the streets for the same reasons as yesterday and the day before: inflation, insecurity and a repressive state that refuses to release our colleagues,” said 22-year-old student Marcos Matta.

Maduro, a 51-year-old former union activist and bus driver, accuses his foes of seeking a coup against him similar to one that briefly toppled his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, in 2002.

There is no sign that the demonstrations, in which three people have died, threaten to oust him, nor that the military, whose role was crucial to Chavez’s brief unseating, will turn against Maduro.

In a speech late Thursday, the president insisted that no more protest rallies would be allowed.

“This is not Ukraine,” Maduro said, in reference to months of anti-government protests there.

Opposition activists say that 91 protesters remained in jail Friday, awaiting trial on charges of violence. The government puts the figure at about 70.

Hardline opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, whom the government is calling the “face of fascism” and the intellectual author of the violence, remained in his Caracas home Friday despite an arrest warrant for him, party colleagues said.

He denies the government’s accusations, saying peaceful protests have been infiltrated by provocateurs and attacked by pro-government gangs.

The 42-year-old U.S.-educated economist and leader of the Popular Will party taunted Maduro via Twitter: “@NicolasMaduro: don’t you have the guts to arrest me? Or are you waiting for orders from Havana? I tell you, the truth is on our side.”

Maduro’s foes paint him as a stooge of Cuba’s communist government who lacks Chavez’s charisma and is leading the economy to ruin by sticking with failed socialist policies.

It was not immediately evident why police had not acted on the arrest warrant against Lopez, though such action could fuel further protests, given the nation’s tense climate.

— Reuters

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