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Empty pots clang as 'hungry' Venezuela opposition hits streets

The protest march -- designed to go from a middle class area of Caracas to a poor one -- was broken up by police firing tear gas, water cannon and buck shot.

Published: 04th June 2017 07:09 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th June 2017 07:09 AM   |  A+A-

A protester winds up to throw a bottle at national guard soldiers during a march against hunger in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, June 3, 2017. (AP)

By AFP

CARACAS: Banging empty pots as symbols of hunger, opponents of President Nicolas Maduro tried Saturday to bring their fight for his departure to more of Venezuela's poor.

But the protest march -- designed to go from a middle class area of Caracas to a poor one -- was broken up by police firing tear gas, water cannon and buck shot.

Protesters fought back with rocks and Molotov cocktails, some shouting "murderers" at the National Guard troops.

"How can they attack people like this?", said opposition lawmaker Jose Manuel Olivares, who was sprayed in the face with pepper gas as soldiers put down the protest.

Demonstrators blame Maduro, an elected socialist due to serve through January 2019, for the country's economic collapse as he has aligned it ever more closely with the communist-led Cuban model. 

Two months of deadly demonstrations have left 64 people dead, jolted the Maduro administration and drawn international concern. 

Cuba is Caracas' closest ally. Venezuela, used to spending its huge oil wealth freely, has seen its revenues shrink due to sharply lower crude prices.

"If there is anything that is going to resonate, it is the lack of food. Hunger. It may be the new political focus on the streets," sociologist Ramon Pinango told AFP.

He said marching to El Valle, a sprawling low-income area near the capital and the intended destination of Saturday's thwarted procession, was part of the new tack.

Maduro opponents seemed to be clear on the need to broaden their bases from mostly middle class areas.

"We do want to have a presence in these areas which are victims of brutal repression," lawmaker Miguel Pizarro said.

Protests in El Valle on April 20 turned violent and left at least 11 dead and scores of businesses looted.

About 9.6 million Venezuelans -- almost a third of the population -- eat two meals a day or fewer, according to a study by a group of universities.

Maduro however says that poverty in 2016 fell from 19.7 percent of the population to 18.3 percent, and extreme poverty from 4.9 to 4.4 percent.

Elected in 2013, Maduro is resisting opposition calls for early elections to remove him.

The opposition blames him for severe food and medicine shortages in the oil-rich nation.

He says the crisis is a US-backed conspiracy.

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