Venezuela Opposition Aims to Keep Protests Peaceful, but Violence Erupts

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Anti-government protesters closed a highway in Caracas, Venezuela, on Monday. Credit Fernando Llano/Associated Press

Venezuelan government officials blamed the opposition for attacks against pro-government demonstrators on Monday during sit-ins organized by the opposition that gathered thousands in support of elections.

Officials said the casualties included two dead in gunfire in Mérida and Barinas States, among the places where opposition protesters gathered against President Nicolás Maduro.

The sit-ins were the latest in a series of large demonstrations over the past three weeks. They became almost daily occurrences after security forces last Wednesday attacked crowds of peaceful protesters with rubber bullets and water cannons. The toll has mounted, with more than 20 deaths in looting and clashes with the security forces.

Monday’s sit-ins had aimed to scale back the violence. Crowds with umbrellas and blankets closed a main highway in Caracas, singing songs, reading books and playing dominoes and cards.

“I’m calling on the country, on all of Venezuela, to go out into the streets until we have a democratic country with social justice, where there’s progress for all,” Julio Borges, an opposition politician who leads the National Assembly, said on the Venezuelan television channel Globovision.

Mr. Maduro’s government countered with calls to mount its own demonstrations. Diosdado Cabello, a top lawmaker in the country’s ruling Socialist party, said he would call a pro-government rally on May 1, International Workers’ Day.

The events showed that Venezuela may be girding for a long war of attrition on the streets as the opposition calls for sustained civil disobedience against Mr. Maduro’s accumulation of power. The challenge is the biggest threat to leftists since protests rocked Caracas and other cities in 2014.

The most recent discontent arose on March 29 when the Venezuelan Supreme Court, controlled by leftist stalwarts, essentially dissolved the country’s National Assembly and took on lawmaking powers for itself. The legislature is controlled by the opposition and is widely considered the last remaining institution independent of Mr. Maduro.

After the move was condemned internationally — and even by some in Mr. Maduro’s own party — the president told the court to undo parts of its ruling. But the lawmakers, whose decisions have repeatedly been overturned by judges, remain powerless, according to legal experts.

Mr. Maduro initially responded to the protests with a heavy hand. In recent days, security forces have been less aggressive. The president has also said he is interested in scheduling elections, though he has not offered a date.

On Sunday, Mr. Maduro went further, saying the Constitution should be rewritten to resolve the crisis. He offered no time frame for such a process.

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