CARACAS: Protesters hurling rocks clashed with police firing tear gas Saturday in Venezuela’s fourth demonstration in a week against President Nicolas Maduro and his government.
The rally was marked by anger over a ruling from the leftist government banning opposition leader Henrique Capriles from office for 15 years. Around 4,000 people attended the demonstration.
Capriles narrowly lost the 2013 presidential election that brought Maduro to power following the death of his mentor Hugo Chavez—father of Venezuela’s “socialist revolution.”
The government move, which the 44-year-old Capriles announced on Friday, effectively prevents him from running against Maduro in next year’s general election.
Saturday’s violence broke out when protesters who had gathered in the east of the city changed course at Capriles’s request and headed downtown toward the government ombudsman’s office.
The district—home to many government offices—is a pro-Maduro bastion and the president’s supporters were holding a “cultural, sporting and recreational rally” there.
National Guard police fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to force protesters back.
Masked demonstrators threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at police, said AFP reporters on the scene. At least two police officers were hit by the flaming bottles.
The initial tally of injuries stood at 17, according to the mayor of one of Caracas’s districts.
According to Capriles the building where he carries out his political activities was “attacked with bombs” shortly after the demonstration.
“What is the order of Maduro? To kill us? If something happens you know who is responsible and what must be done!” he wrote on Twitter.
Capriles was among the leaders behind mass demonstrations against Maduro earlier this week that triggered clashes with police. One protester died.
“This thing that they just did to Capriles is the product of tyranny,” said Adel Rincones, 61, who clutched a sign that read “Venezuela is wounded in the heart with hunger, misery, corruption, dictatorship.”
Protests also erupted in several other cities, including unrest-prone San Cristobal in the west, where masked gunmen reportedly set off explosions, causing demonstrators to flee.