Bread Riots in Caracas as Venezuela Protests Escalate

Violence Thursday night forced the evacuation of children and mothers from a maternity hospital when the building was flooded with tear gas. A female journalist said she was assaulted by pro-government heavies downtown and a male journalist was detained for hours by intelligence officers, their union said.

For the first time in three weeks of protest, demonstrators in Venezuela have crossed from the wealthier eastern side of the nation's capital to the west without encountering resistance from state security.

Six people were also injured in the escalating violence, the public ministry said in a statement on Friday.

Venezuela's military historically has been the arbiter of political disputes and some in the opposition are trying to spur its leaders into action to resolve the current impasse.

The push to keep up constant demonstrations increasingly mirrors protests in 2014 in which Maduro's critics barricaded streets and battled police for close to three months. But while anti-government protesters accused riot police of being behind the attack, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said armed groups hired by Maduro's opponents were to blame.

Many wore white T-shirts emblazoned with the word "peace".

This week, General Motors became the latest major American brand to flee Venezuela after its assembly plant, bank accounts and other assets were seized as the result of a judicial ruling in favor of a former GM dealership.

In Caracas, a priest and an evangelical pastor led a mass for the demonstrators from the back of a truck. Opposition leaders vowed to seek his ouster through constitutional means, but the government-stacked Supreme Court has stopped them at every turn. "We lost everything here", said Mustafa, who said he could hear the looting from his home, which is adjacent to the store. The seizure arose from an nearly 20-year-old lawsuit brought by a former GM dealership in western Venezuela.

The second in line of succession after El Aissami, he has been at the forefront with other lawmakers in the latest protests, rejecting repeat invitations by Maduro to return to negotiations that collapsed previous year.

Opposition leaders have called new protests for Saturday and Monday. That march was the largest and most dramatic the country has seen in years. Once a generous oil-financed welfare state, Venezuelan consumers now struggle to obtain basic food and medicine.

The spark that set off the near-daily protests was an attempt by the Supreme Court to take over the powers of the opposition-dominated Congress.

The charges that Venezuela is moving toward a full-blown dictatorship come against the backdrop of an ever-deepening economic crisis. The government last year abruptly postponed regional elections that the opposition was heavily favored to win and it cut off a petition drive aimed at forcing a referendum seeking Maduro's removal before elections scheduled for late next year. There are shortages of many goods and violence has flared up again.

Local media reported looting and street clashes with security forces in poor areas of Caracas late on Thursday and early Friday.

Unrest that began late on Thursday night in the Caracas neighborhood of El Valle left eleven people dead from either electrocution or gunfire.

  • Leroy Wright