CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Friday four people had been held following another rowdy anti-government protest, the latest in a spate of sporadic street demonstrations being fanned by hardline opposition parties.
That brought to nearly a dozen the number of reported detentions since two opposition leaders, Maria Corina Machado and Leopoldo Lopez, last week urged Venezuelans to take to the streets in an effort to force a change of government.
Seven people were arrested last weekend on charges of violence after scores of protesters converged on a hotel housing a Cuban baseball team on Margarita Island.
Opposition activists say Maduro is a stooge of the Cuban government.
Students in the western state of Tachira have been demonstrating this week and officials said one group of masked assailants attacked the residence of the pro-government governor, hurling objects and smashing security cameras.
“We have made four arrests ... there will be no mercy,” Maduro said, denouncing them as “fascists.”
The Venezuelan president, who narrowly won election last year to replace late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, said right-wing politicians were hoping to spark incidents to create outrage abroad.
“I have information they are looking for injuries and deaths. They want to project images to the world in order to disrupt our country,” he said.
Frustrated by the moderate line of two-time presidential runner-up Henrique Capriles and other prominent opposition figures, Machado and Lopez have urged Venezuelans to hit the streets to protest against economic hardships and other societal ills.
There have so far only been sporadic demonstrations, drawing relatively small numbers of protesters.
Organizers, however, insist they have been entirely peaceful.
“We can’t be spectators of this disaster we are living,” Lopez told reporters on Friday, in justifying his tactics.
“The quicker we develop a solid movement with irreverence and rebelliousness, the quicker we will democratically replace this corrupt and inept government. We cannot wait until 2019,” he added.
Maduro’s six-year presidential term ends in 2019, but opponents have a chance to oust him via a “recall referendum” in 2016 if they garner the nearly four million signatures required.
Editing by G Crosse