Masses of protesters jammed the streets of Venezuela's capital on Wednesday on the heels of a move by congress to open a political trial against President Nicolas Maduro, whose allies have blocked moves for a recall election. Some schools and shops were shut as demonstrators crowded key points around Caracas to demand Maduro's ouster.
Electoral authorities blocked a recall campaign against the deeply unpopular president last week, and the faceoff escalated yesterday when the opposition-led legislature voted to put Maduro on trial, accusing him of effectively staging a coup.
Artist Freddy Salazar was among the tens of thousands of protesters who filled major thoroughfares and plazas today, and shut down the city's main highway.
"We have taken to the streets so that the whole world can see that we don't support this corrupt regime," he said. "We are here to defend our country and our quality of life."
Government supporters staged a much smaller protest in the heart of the city. Anti-government demonstrators have attempted to march to downtown a dozen times this year, but have been turned back by state security forces.
As the anti-Maduro protest wound down, opposition leaders called for a national strike on Friday, and then a march to the presidential palace in the heart of the city on Nov. 3. If the government continues to block the recall effort.
"Maduro has shown how scared he is that the people will express themselves," said opposition leader Henrique Capriles.
The opposition has not been allowed to protest in front of the presidential palace since a massive march there helped precipitate a short-lived coup against former President Hugo Chavez in 2002.
Protesters also rallied in other major Venezuelan cities to demand Maduro's resignation in a nationwide show of support for the opposition leaders were calling "the takeover of Venezuela."
Local news media reported tear gassing and clashes with police in provincial capitals that left several wounded. Some protesters said they had been unable to get to Caracas today as the government shut down roads and metro stations.
Opposition legislators argued that Venezuela's leader has effectively abandoned the presidency by neglecting his job. Several also questioned whether he was a dual Colombian national and therefore ineligible to hold Venezuela's highest office - an old, unproven claim.
Despite the crisis gripping the country, the protest had a generally light, carnival atmosphere, with young people playing instruments, and sitting causally on the city's main highway. One student protester dressed as Lady Justice, with a scale and white blindfold.