Caracas / AFP
Venezuelan protesters demanded a referendum on ousting President Nicolas, defying riot police who fired tear gas and a state of emergency that the opposition has blasted as unconstitutional.
But Maduro warned that if anti-government acts turned violent “I will not hesitate” to ratchet up the extraordinary measures in force, “to fight for the peace and security of this country.”
The opposition organized the demonstrations in Caracas and two dozen other cities and towns to press for a recall referendum against Maduro this year.
More than 1.8 million signatures calling for the vote have been gathered on a petition that was handed to the National Electoral Council (CNE) two weeks ago.
Police and soldiers using tear gas and pepper spray blocked around 1,000 demonstrators from marching on the CNE headquarters, journalists including AFP witnessed.
Some of the protesters threw rocks and bottles at the forces barricading them in. “Recall! Recall! Maduro Out!” the crowd yelled, holding aloft anti-government placards and Venezuelan flags.
Incidents were reported during demonstrations in five Venezuelan states. Some 30 people were arrested, the opposition and non-governmental organizations said.
The protests were the first since the 60-day state of emergency the unpopular Maduro imposed this week that gives broad powers to security forces to maintain public order.
The order gives broad powers to the government, military and police to ignore constitutional protections and tackle what Maduro has said are threats to domestic and external security, and critical shortages of food and energy.
The only visible effects so have been the diversion of some scarce food for handout to poor citizens, and greater vigilance by security forces.
But Maduro said he had scope to take the state of emergency further, implying that he could impose greater military control over the population to put down challenges to his authority.
The congress, controlled by the opposition, on Tuesday rejected the decree establishing the state of emergency.