- POSTED: 15 Feb 2014 04:54
Students opposed to the Venezuelan government started gathering for a march challenging President Nicolas Maduro, two days after another protest erupted in deadly violence.
CARACAS: Students opposed to the Venezuelan government started gathering on Friday for a march challenging President Nicolas Maduro, two days after another protest erupted in deadly violence.
Maduro, meanwhile, has called a demo by his own supporters "for peace and against fascism" on Saturday.
The duelling processions follow a fierce opposition demonstration in Caracas on Wednesday in which a pro-government demonstrator and two student protesters died.
Thousands of students have protested over the past ten days in the Venezuelan capital, in the biggest show of defiance to Maduro's leadership since he took over from the late Hugo Chavez last year.
The students, backed by elements of the opposition, are ratcheting up pressure to call for immediate action on rampant crime, inflation and shortages of basic goods.
Maduro urged supporters to join him on Saturday at mid-day for "a big march of all the political and social forces of the Bolivarian Revolution for peace and against fascism."
In line with Venezuelan law, state TV did not cover Wednesday's violence, in which protesters burned tires, set fire to police cars and attacked a government building.
They were dispersed by police with tear gas.
The official National Telecommunications Council, which regulates the media, warned of sanctions against outlets that "encourage violence."
In his remarks on Thursday night, the president criticized foreign press coverage of the unrest.
He said the Colombian 24-hour cable news channel NTN24 had been shut off in Venezuela and accused it of broadcasting "the unrest of a coup," like the one that briefly ousted Chavez in 2002.
Maduro also accused international news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) of manipulation.
"There is much manipulation. I denounce Agence France-Presse. AFP is leading the manipulation," Maduro said.
He said he had ordered Communications Minister Delcy Rodriguez "to take measures and speak very clearly to AFP's correspondents in Venezuela."
AFP's regional director for Latin America, Juliette Hollier-Larousse, responded Friday saying she did not understand Maduro's remarks.
"We are awaiting a meeting with the authorities to find out more," she added.
Maduro has also ordered the arrest of a senior opposition figure and declared that he would not be overthrown - though protesters say a coup is not their goal.
Wednesday's violence led to a security crackdown in cities across a country where the economy has been battered by inflation of more than 50 percent a year.
Maduro had urged people to demonstrate in "anti-fascism" rallies on Thursday, but only a handful of supporters turned up.
Venezuela - with an institutionally socialist government dependent on oil revenues in a state-led system - sits atop the world's largest proven reserves of crude.
Yet its economy has been hurt by a shortage of hard currency, while dwindling supplies of consumer goods have frustrated even some government supporters.
The government blames "bourgeois" local business interests for trying to profit from its largely low- and middle-income political base. It has engaged in privatizations and currency controls.