Caracas: A Venezuelan opposition lawmaker was injured when police fired tear gas and forcefully broke up protesters demanding the authorities move forward with a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro.
Police and soldiers formed a cord around the National Electoral Board (CNE) office in downtown Caracas to block the protesters, who were led by a group of opposition lawmakers vowing to march on the building. This is the fourth time in recent days that police have forcefully stopped attempts to march on the CNE.
The demonstrators nevertheless tried to enter the building, unleashing a heated shoving match with police.
A brawl broke out yesterday and punches flew when the protesters faced pro-government sympathizers. Julio Borges, a leading opposition lawmaker, was attacked with clubs and forced to flee to a nearby office.
"We were going peacefully to ask to be heard, like any other Venezuelan," but the board members "refused to see us," said Borges, who spoke to reporters with blood running down his nose.
"They believe that they're above the constitution, above the people," he said yesterday.
"Recall now!" and "We're hungry!" chanted the protesters. The pro-Maduro crowd tried to drown them out with their own chants.
Police hurled tear gas canisters to break up the crowds.
Elsewhere in Caracas, in the Plaza Venezuela, students who gathered to march to the Election Board office were surrounded by security forces.
After weeks of pressuring the CNE to allow the referendum process to go ahead, the opposition said Tuesday that the board had accepted as valid 1.3 million signatures on a petition calling for a recall vote.
The decision moves the lengthy recall process on to the next step, in which at least 200,000 signatories must confirm their identity with fingerprint scans.
But electoral authorities have yet to set a date for that.
Under the constitution, the opposition would then have to gather four million more signatures -- 20 percent of the electorate -- to trigger a recall vote.
Maduro's opponents are racing to call a referendum before Jan 10, when a successful recall vote would trigger new elections rather than transfer power to the vice president.
The opposition warns the once-booming oil giant risks exploding into unrest if authorities do not allow a referendum on Maduro's rule, which has seen an economic downturn marked by severe shortages of food, electricity, medicine and other basic goods.