Roses in hand, Venezuelan women protesters face security forces

By Andreina Aponte and Andrew Cawthorne

CARACAS (Reuters) – Dressed in white and chanting “Liberty!”, tens of thousands of women opposed to Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro marched on Saturday, proffering roses to security forces who blocked their way.

The women’s marches, which took place in most major cities around the South American oil producer, were the latest in five weeks of sustained protests against Maduro whom opponents decry as a dictator who has ruined the economy.

In Caracas, marchers sang the national anthem and shouted “We want elections!” They were halted at various points by lines of policewomen and National Guard troops with armored cars.

The opposition, which has majority support in Venezuela after years of being in the shadow of the ruling Socialist Party, is demanding that delayed state elections be held and the 2018 presidential vote be brought forward.

They also want the government to free scores of jailed activists, allow humanitarian aid from abroad to offset a brutal economic crisis, and respect the independence of the legislature where the opposition won a majority in 2015.

Highlighting vandalism and violence by young masked protesters, Maduro says opponents are seeking a coup with U.S. support and harbor “terrorists” and “murderers” in their ranks.

In response to the crisis, the 54-year-old successor to Hugo Chavez is setting up a super body known as a “constituent assembly” with powers to rewrite the constitution, shake up public powers, and potentially replace the legislature.

“This march is against opposition terrorism, they are destroying everything,” said cook Fredesvilda Paulino, 54, at a pro-government rally also in Caracas on Saturday where red-shirted women waved pro-Maduro flags and banners.

The women’s marches were organized as part of an opposition attempt to vary tactics and keep momentum against Maduro.

Women have often been feeling the brunt of Venezuela’s economic crisis due to widespread food and medicine…

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