Venezuelan police fire tear gas during clash ahead of vote

CARACAS Thu Mar 21, 2013 7:37pm EDT

1 of 4. A riot police officer takes cover behind a car as he attempts to break up a demonstration in Caracas March 21, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

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CARACAS (Reuters) - Police fired tear gas in downtown Caracas on Thursday as anti-government student protesters clashed with supporters of late President Hugo Chavez in an increasingly volatile atmosphere ahead of next month's election.

Several hundred students were marching to the election board's headquarters to demand a clean vote when they were blocked by government supporters who hurled stones, bottles and eggs at them, a Reuters witness said.

Some of the students threw stones back, other witnesses said.

"We were holding a peaceful march. ... All we want is democracy," said law student Eduardo Vargas, 19, whose eye was injured in the incident. "We're all Venezuelans. We just want a fair vote."

Police fired tear gas towards the 150 or so government supporters and formed a cordon between the two sides.

It was the first outbreak of violence since an election was called on April 14 for the South American OPEC nation following Chavez's death from cancer two weeks ago.

Both candidates, acting President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Henrique Capriles, have been trading personal accusations as they rally supporters for the vote.

One onlooker, Gustavo Malave, a 78-year-old who works for one of the socialist "community councils" set up during Chavez's 14-year rule, blamed the students for starting the trouble.

"The clash began because the opposition started throwing stones," he said. "I support Chavez and Maduro. Chavez set this course, and it's going to continue for 40 or 50 years."

Before the clash, the students had been marching to the election headquarters singing the national anthem and carrying signs including "Free and fair elections" and "Nicolas is a liar."

"The students are saying to the world and to the country that we are in the street. We want transparent and free elections," said one student leader, Victor Fernandez.

With sympathy over Chavez's death galvanizing government supporters, Maduro, 50, a longtime socialist stalwart, is favorite to win next month's vote.

Two polls published this week put the former bus driver ahead of Capriles by more than 14 percentage points.

Capriles, a 40-year-old state governor, accuses Maduro of being a nonentity who is exploiting the emotion around Chavez's death. He wants voters to focus on daily problems confronting Venezuelans ranging from potholes to high crime rates and corruption.

Capriles, a centrist politician who says Brazil's free-market economics with strong welfare policies is his model for Venezuela, lost to Chavez last year by 11 percentage points.

(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Xavier Briand)

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Comments (4)
Reuters is always giving poll results without naming their origins. With so much of the media controlled by the government I don’t think any public polls can be trusted as being unbiased. The election process in Venezuela is so manipulated by the government that any poll results would be skewed in favor of Maduro and his cronies in the current regime. The violence against the anti government demonstrators is encourged by Maduro’s politcal machine. This is not an exercise in democracy but rather the orchestrated schemes and maneuvering of an authoritarian government to intimidate the oposition and incite the regimes supporters violently repress dissent.

Mar 21, 2013 3:51pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
reuterssucks1 wrote:
As always, when the wheels come off a social order, the side with the guns wins.

Mar 21, 2013 10:12pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
coast2co wrote:
I can’t imagine a fair democratic election now in Venezuela. Maduro hasn’t had his chance of raping the countries wealth. Chavez died with $2 Billions dollars in the bank…

Mar 21, 2013 10:13pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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