CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Opposition leaders called on Venezuelans to take to the streets once again on Thursday to protest what they say was an attempted coup.
Critics of the embattled socialist administration hoped to shut down main highways and roads around the South American country as a “traffic jam against the coup.” It was to be the fourth major protest in a week. Tuesday saw violent clashes at a major demonstration in Caracas, with a handful of serious injuries and arrests.
Lawmakers, some still injured from that protest, on Wednesday began a symbolic process of removing Supreme Court justices.
This latest political crisis was triggered last week when the Supreme Court issued a ruling that nullified congress. President Nicolas Maduro instructed the court to roll back that ruling a few days later, but opposition leaders said the attempt to invalidate a branch of power revealed the administration’s true dictatorial nature.
The court ruling led to a round of calls for democratic reforms from the international community. The Organization of America States issued its strongest warning to the country yet after two back-to-back meetings. Countries around the region issued stern statements and recalled their ambassadors. And Venezuela’s most recognizable international movie star, Edgar Ramirez, joined the calls for protests.
On Wednesday night, the president of a leading Venezuelan opposition party took refuge at the residence of the Chilean ambassador in Caracas and asked for protection.
The Chilean Foreign Ministry said Roberto Enriquez, president of the COPEI Christian Democrat opposition party, had been granted guest status there. The party said other COPEI leaders had been arrested in recent days and accused of treason.
In response to the protests called for Thursday, the government created a traffic jam of its own, closing more than a dozen Caracas metro stations and staging its own counter-protest in the heart of the city. Many streets were blocked off in the early morning, and some shops were closed amid fears of more violence.
In addition to demanding the resignation of the Supreme Court judges, protesters are seeking immediate general elections.
“We’re not taking to the streets because we don’t like Maduro,” said opposition leader Henrique Capriles. “The way we get rid of Maduro is with elections; that is how we change the worst government our country has ever seen.”