May 25, 2013
Police fire tear gas as rivals clash
CARACAS — Police fired tear gas in downtown Caracas yesterday, as supporters of late President Hugo Chávez clashed with anti-government student protesters in an increasingly volatile atmosphere ahead of next month’s election. At least 10 students were reported injured, none seriously.
Several hundred students were marching to the election board’s headquarters to demand a clean vote when they were blocked by government supporters who hurled stones, bottles and eggs at them, one witness said. Some of the students threw stones back, other witnesses added.
It was the first outbreak of violence since an election was called for April 14 following Chávez’s death from cancer two weeks ago.
Police fired tear gas towards the 150 or so government supporters and formed a cordon between the two sides.
“We were holding a peaceful march... All we want is democracy,” said law student Eduardo Vargas, 19, whose eye was injured in the incident. “We’re all Venezuelans. We just want a fair vote.”
One onlooker, Gustavo Malave, a 78-year-old who works for one of the socialist “community councils” set up during Chávez’s 14-year rule, blamed the students for starting the trouble.
“The clash began because the opposition started throwing stones,” he said. “I support Chávez and Maduro. Chávez set this course, and it’s going to continue for 40 or 50 years.”
Before the clash, the students had been marching to the election headquarters singing the national anthem and carrying signs including “Free and fair elections” and “Nicolás is a liar.”
“The government supporters have ambushed us,” said one student leader, Víctor Fernández. “The students are saying to the world and to the country that we are in the street. We want transparent and free elections.”
“It wasn’t our intention to confront or provoke violent acts, but the violence appeared because of minuscule groups that were sent to sabotage a legitimate protest,” said student leader Gaby Arellano. She added that none of the students were seriously injured.
The protesters were demanding the electoral council eliminate requirements that voters have their fingerprints recorded before voting.
The students also called on the council to stop Nicolás Maduro, the country’s acting president, from seizing TV and radio airwaves to promote his candidacy.
Herald with AP, Reuters