CARACAS (Reuters) - Two Venezuelan lawmakers said they were roughed up on Monday with one pushed into a manhole by soldiers blocking an opposition sit-in against President Nicolas Maduro, among chaotic scenes around Caracas.
Juan Requesens and Miguel Pizarro, both of the First Justice party and proponents of civil disobedience, were surrounded by National Guard soldiers when they approached a highway in Caracas that demonstrators had sought to occupy from dawn.
Requesens said he was shoved into an open drain hole, where TV images showed him emerging bruised and angry, while Pizarro said he was hit with a riot shield and punched in the face.
“Have the National Guard gone crazy, or what?” Requesens said to reporters on the scene, as supporters helped him out of the manhole that was deeper than him. “Despite all this violence, we are going to stay on the streets.”
Maduro foes are in their third month of protests to demand general elections, freedom for jailed activists, foreign humanitarian aid and autonomy for the opposition-controlled National Assembly.
The government calls the protesters violent coup-mongers, supported by the United States, and security forces have been quick to snuff out rallies in recent days.
On Monday, they fired tear gas to disperse knots of demonstrators in various parts of the capital, chasing groups of masked youths into a mall.
At least 65 people have died in the unrest since early April, with hundreds more injured.
Some 3,000 people have been arrested, with around one-third still behind bars, according to rights group Penal Forum.
Both Requesens and Pizarro are young lawmakers frequently at the front line of protests and close to rowdy clashes which they broadcast live on social media.
Activists accused National Guard personnel in Caracas of ambushing demonstrators, stealing mobile phones and motor-bikes, and firing tear gas canisters directly at people’s bodies.
Officials retorted that opposition ranks include assassins and hoodlums who were bent on causing mayhem to justify a foreign intervention in the South American OPEC nation.
Also, Lilian Tintori, wife of Venezuela’s best-known jailed opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, said on Monday that authorities had offered him a deal to swap prison for house arrest, but he rejected it.
“He told me ‘Lilian, inform people ... that there is no agreement, no type of negotiation,’” Tintori told reporters in Plaza Altamira, one of the main opposition congregation points.
At the weekend, Tintori released a video secretly filmed by Lopez at Ramo Verde prison, urging protesters to stay in the streets but behave peacefully.
Editing by Girish Gupta and Jeffrey Benkoe