Caracas: Thousands of demonstrators marched in the Venezuelan capital Caracas against what they see as President Nicolas Maduro`s heavy-handed repression of dissent.
At least 31 people have been killed in more than six weeks of student-led protests against the government, representing the biggest challenge yet to Maduro, the elected socialist heir to longtime late president Hugo Chavez.
"In the name of freedom, put an end to dictatorship now," read one of the many banners held aloft at the latest rally yesterday.
Maduro and his government have been the target of near-daily protests fueled by public anger over soaring crime, hyper inflation, shortages of such basic goods as toilet paper and further stoked by heavy-handed police tactics.
Demonstrators partly blame Caracas`s close ties to Cuba, the only Communist one-party state in the Americas. Maduro, who succeeded leftist leader Chavez last year, has combined calls for dialogue with a hard stance against opposition rivals and demonstrators.
Maduro says he has fended off a coup bid aided or supported by the United States and other "fascists." Protests have mainly taken place in middle-class opposition strongholds and Maduro still enjoys support among Venezuela`s larger, poor population, allowing him to weather the weeks-long protests.
The crackdown on opposition figures contrasts with Maduro`s call for rivals to join a "peace conference." The main opposition refuses to join the dialogue until the government frees more than 100 protesters who remain behind bars.