Venezuela's elderly have been hit hard by four years of brutal recession, leading to food and medicine shortages, long lines at shops and runaway prices.

At least 39 people have died in the unrest since April, including protesters, government sympathizers, bystanders, and security forces.
At least 39 people have died in the unrest since April, including protesters, government sympathizers, bystanders, and security forces.

Elderly Venezuelan protesters on Friday threw punches and yelled curses at riot police as they marched against President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government.

Riot police with helmets and shields used pepper gas several times to control the crowd as hundreds of pensioners jostled against security lines to attempt a march from a Caracas square.

"We do not want a dictatorship, we want to grow old with dignity, medicine, food and freedom," said Lourdes Parra, 77, wrapped in a red, yellow and blue Venezuelan flag.

Defying calls for early elections, President Nicolas Maduro also rallied elderly supporters, who yelled slogans in support of him and his late predecessor Hugo Chavez.

TRT World's Sarah Jones has more.

Ongoing protests

At least 38 people have been killed and hundreds injured in protests that erupted after the Supreme Court issued a ruling March 29 nullifying the opposition-controlled National Assembly, a decision it later reversed amid a storm of international criticism and outrage among Venezuelans.

Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets to castigate Maduro's administration, which they claim has become a dictatorship responsible for triple-digit inflation, skyrocketing crime, crippling food shortages and wrecking the OPEC nation's economy.

Opponents are seeking elections, foreign humanitarian aid, freedom for hundreds of jailed activists, and autonomy for the opposition-controlled legislature.

Maduro, a 54-year-old former bus driver and successor of Hugo Chavez, says his foes are seeking a coup with the support of the United States and encouragement of international media.

An economy in decline

The demo drew attention to the suffering of Venezuelans, particularly the elderly, in an economic crisis that has caused shortages of food and medicine in the oil-rich country.

"Each tear gas cannister costs more than the minimum (monthly) salary, the government spends more on tear gas than providing food," complained university professor Francisco Viveros, 67.

Hospital shortages

Hospitals and protesters are complaining of severe shortages of medical supplies from an economic crisis that has fuelled opposition calls for early elections.

The Venezuelan Medical Federation says hospitals have only three percent of the medicines and supplies they need to operate normally.

The health ministry on Wednesday released data showing deaths of infants under the age of one soared by 30 percent in 2016 and deaths of women linked to childbirth by 65 percent.

Cases of malaria also rose by 76 percent to more than 240,000, even though the disease was said to have been eradicated in Venezuela.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies