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Venezuela President Heckled as Protests Spread to Slums

  • Associated Press

Abelino Vieira inspects the hole where looters entered his grocery and liquor store during a protest in Caracas, Venezuela, April 12, 2017.

Scattered protests flared Wednesday in slums that have long been a bulwark of support for Venezuela's socialist leaders only hours after a pro-government rally degenerated into heckling of President Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro was attending a rally Tuesday night in the poor eastern state of Bolivar when a crowd turned on him. The official broadcast of the event cut out, but videos circulating on social media show people throwing objects at the president's vehicle and shouting "damn you!" A witness said people threw stones, bottles and cold water at the president, whose approval ratings have dipped below 20 percent as the country's economy has plummeted.

Later that night, hundreds of young men burned trash and clashed with police in scattered protests around the economically flailing country. The unrest notably included slums outside of Caracas and other cities that had long shunned any part in the near-daily protests that have embroiled middle-class neighborhoods.

A resident covers her month from tear gas fired by Bolivarian National Police outside of a grocery and liquor store to disperse looters during a protest in Caracas, Venezuela, April 12, 2017.
A resident covers her month from tear gas fired by Bolivarian National Police outside of a grocery and liquor store to disperse looters during a protest in Caracas, Venezuela, April 12, 2017.

"People went into the streets last night because we are very upset," said Wilfredo Martinez, who lives in the working-class Caracas neighborhood of La Vega. "We're having a terrible time. We can't find food and sick people can't find medicine."

Dozens of police in riot gear stormed into his neighborhood as dawn broke to reestablish order and stop the looting of local stores.

Congressman Daniel Antequera said that a 14-year-old boy was killed in protests Tuesday night in the city of Barquisimeto, apparently shot by government supporters. The boy is the third protester killed in recent days. Officials said Wednesday they were charging two police with killing a 20-year-old college student earlier in the week.

Opposition leaders seized on the videos of Maduro being harassed at the official event as evidence he can no longer travel freely in his own land.

Abelino Vieira, center, covers the hole where looters entered his grocery and liquor store during a protest Tuesday night in Caracas, Venezuela, April 12, 2017.
Abelino Vieira, center, covers the hole where looters entered his grocery and liquor store during a protest Tuesday night in Caracas, Venezuela, April 12, 2017.

"Leave already, Maduro. Wherever you go here, people hate you," two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said Wednesday. The episode recalled an incident several months ago in which people chased Maduro down the street on the resort island of Margarita, banging pots and pans to express their anger.

The unrest is the strongest the country has seen since 2014, when protests left dozens dead — but the government's hold on power stronger than ever. Opposition leaders say the country has further soured on Maduro in the years since, and are calling for continued protests to demand immediate general elections.

Freddy Guevara, vice president of the country's opposition-led congress, called on protesters to avoid violence.

"Peaceful protesting is resistance, not violence," he said. "Looting and destroying property is not. It strengthens the dictatorship and puts us all at risk."

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