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Protesters March Through Caracas Demanding Recall Vote for Maduro


Venezuelans living in Peru protest outside the Venezuela embassy in Lima, demanding a referendum to remove Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, Sept. 1, 2016.

Venezuelans living in Peru protest outside the Venezuela embassy in Lima, demanding a referendum to remove Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, Sept. 1, 2016.

Hundreds of thousands of dissatisfied Venezuelans, some of whom traveled from far-off Amazon villages, marched through Caracas streets Thursday in a show of opposition against President Nicolas Maduro.

"Venezuela is hungry!" yelled some of the protesters, all dressed in white, as they marched east of the capital.

Protesters have pledged to keep up the pressure for a recall referendum against the president, whose approval ratings have fallen to a dismal 25 percent. The country has been plagued by ongoing recession, inflation in the triple digits, and a countrywide shortage of food and basic necessities.

The opposition had hoped to muster 1 million people to march through the capital Thursday. Maduro claimed it drew only 30,000, the Associated Press reported, but no reliable estimates were available.

Riot police face opposition activists marching in Caracas, Sept. 1, 2016. Backers of Venezuela's government and opposition staged massive marches over a referendum to recall President Nicolas Maduro.

Riot police face opposition activists marching in Caracas, Sept. 1, 2016. Backers of Venezuela's government and opposition staged massive marches over a referendum to recall President Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro threatened to imprison opposition leaders if violence broke out, but Jesus Torrealba, leader of the opposition party Democratic Unity Roundtable, vowed that marches would remain peaceful.

"Not one stone, not one hood, not one broken bottle," he said. "What there will be is purely democratic citizens in the street."

Those in the opposition-dubbed "Takeover of Caracas" chanted "This government will fall!" as they marched, demanding action against the president.

But the election board has dragged its feet, making a recall vote this year unlikely.

A separate protest by red-shirted government supporters was also taking place Thursday.

FILE - Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles talks to riot police at a June 7 rally in Caracas to demand a referendum.

FILE - Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles talks to riot police at a June 7 rally in Caracas to demand a referendum.

If Maduro were to be voted out, Vice President Jorge Arreaza would take his place, leaving the Socialist Party in power.

Maduro has said he thinks the protests are part of a coup plan backed by the United States, one similar to a short-lived putsch against his mentor and predecessor Hugo Chavez in 2002.

"I am ready for everything. ... We will not allow a coup," Maduro said in a speech late Wednesday.

Tensions rise

The weeks leading up to the protest have been marred with tension, with Maduro's government jailing many prominent activists, deploying security forces across the city, and warning of bloodshed.

Last week, Maduro warned that a coup attempt in Venezuela would be punished even more severely than it was in Turkey, where last month the military failed to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"Did you see what happened in Turkey?" said Maduro, in a televised public event. "Erdogan will seem like a nursing baby compared to what the Bolivarian revolution will do if the right wing steps over the line with a coup."

FILE - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, shown in April, promises a harsh response to any coup attempt.

FILE - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, shown in April, promises a harsh response to any coup attempt.

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