CARACAS, Venezuela, Monday April 10, 2017 — Angry protesters hurling rocks and petrol bombs clashed with police firing tear gas on Saturday in Venezuela’s fourth demonstration in a week against the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
Several thousand people attended this latest rally, which vented public rage over a ruling from the socialist government banning opposition leader Henrique Capriles from office for 15 years.
Capriles, widely considered the man to beat in next year’s general election, narrowly lost the 2013 election that brought Maduro to power following the death of his mentor Hugo Chavez.
The latest government move, announced by 44-year-old Capriles on Friday, effectively prevents him from running against Maduro in next year’s poll.
The ban was imposed by state comptroller Manuel Galindo over alleged “administrative irregularities” by Capriles in his job as governor of the northern state of Miranda.
Capriles said that he would appeal the decision and stay in his job as governor, which he has held since 2008. He can appeal against his sanction within two weeks to the comptroller and within six months to the Supreme Court.
Saturday’s violence erupted when protesters gathered in the east of the city changed course at Capriles’s request and headed downtown toward the government ombudsman’s office.
Police fired tear gas at these demonstrators, and they retaliated with rocks and Molotov cocktails.
“They received us with gas and rubber bullets. They insist on siding with the dictatorship but we are going to keep moving forward,” opposition lawmaker Juan Andres Mejia told AFP reporters.
Capriles, too, appeared undaunted: “He who laughs last, laughs best! We’ll see you on the streets of Venezuela @nicolasmaduro. There will be no rest,” Capriles promised on Twitter.
Capriles was also one of the leaders of mass demonstrations earlier last week against Maduro that led to clashes with police and the death of a protester.
Venezuela’s political crisis intensified when the Supreme Court issued rulings curbing the powers of the opposition-controlled legislature.
The court has consistently ruled in Maduro’s favour since the opposition majority took its seats in the National Assembly legislature in January 2016.
It drew international criticism for last week’s rulings, which seized the assembly’s powers and revoked lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution.
The court reversed the rulings days later, but the opposition intensified its protests, prompting police to fire tear gas at one rally.
The Spanish-speaking country appears to be approaching political, economic and social meltdown, with ordinary Venezuelans suffering from acute shortages of food, medicine and basic items along with runaway inflation and a surge in violent crime.