Venezuelan women hold anti-government protests

Led by opposition leaders, lawmakers and Lilian Tintori -- the wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez -- the crowd carried flowers and placards denouncing "repression."

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Lilian Tintori (R), wife of jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, shouts slogans during a women's march to protest against President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela, May 6, 2017.

Tens of thousands of women opposed to Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro marched on Saturday in the country's capital.

The women's march was the latest in five weeks of sustained protests against Maduro, whom opponents say has ruined the economy.

Police and soldiers initially prevented the crowd from reaching the interior ministry. But the women -- led by several lawmakers -- eventually made it to the Interior and Justice ministries.

The opposition after years of being in the shadow of the governing Socialist Party is demanding that delayed state elections be held and the 2018 presidential vote be brought forward.

They also want the government to free scores of jailed activists, allow humanitarian aid from abroad to offset a brutal economic crisis and respect the independence of the legislature where the opposition won a majority in 2015.

Highlighting vandalism and violence by masked protesters, Maduro says opponents are seeking a coup with US support and harbour "terrorists" and "murderers" in their ranks.

"This march is against opposition terrorism, they are destroying everything," said cook Fredesvilda Paulino, 54, at a pro-government rally also in Caracas on Saturday where red-shirted women waved pro-Maduro flags and banners.

Thirty-seven deaths

Since the anti-Maduro protests began in early April, at least 37 people have died, with victims including supporters of both sides, bystanders and members of the security forces.

The opposition says the government is to blame for violence by young protesters as authorities are refusing a free vote to resolve the crisis and are needlessly blocking and repressing marches.

"Just let us vote, and this will all end," said teacher Anlerisky Rosales, 22, in the opposition women's march in Caracas. "There is too much suffering in Venezuela. If we have to, we will give our lives in the street until Maduro goes."

Many Venezuelans are closely watching the armed forces, who have the potential to tip the balance if they disobey government instructions or give Maduro a nudge behind the scenes.

Top armed forces officials have been pledging loyalty in public, though opposition leader Henrique Capriles said on Friday that 85 military officials had been arrested for dissent.

TRTWorld and agencies