Venezuela Opposition March Dispersed by National Police

An opposition march into central Caracas against police repression was broken up by security forces using water cannons and tear gas after the government hardened its stance against demonstrators.

Police dispersed the marchers after blocking their way into the center of the city at the Central University of Venezuela. Protesters responded by throwing rocks at the police. At the same time, pro-government youth groups at a rival demonstration danced at a concert in Plaza Venezuela about a half-kilometer away, according to state television.

Thousands of protesters had marched to demand the resignation of the country’s human rights ombudsman, after a month of protests against mounting shortages and rising crime killed at least 22 people.

“If government supporters can march, why not us?” said Alejandro Ochon, an engineering student at the Central University. “The government is blocking our right to pass and then just waits for us to start rioting, so it can portray us as savages.”

Carlos Vargas, a student leader from the Andres Bello Catholic University, told protesters by megaphone before the clashes that the march would continue as student leaders negotiated with police. “We will be here until they let us pass,” Vargas said.

Maduro’s Stance

President Nicolas Maduro said last night the opposition won’t be allowed downtown until they engage in talks and stop blockading streets in wealthier districts of the country.

“As long as there are barricades, the marches of the right-wing won’t enter Caracas,” Maduro said last night on state radio, while introducing his new weekly radio program of personal reflections, the history of Venezuelan socialism and favorite salsa tunes.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. is urging international organizations and regional countries to push for dialogue and respect for protests in Venezuela. Kerry, speaking to a U.S. House of Representatives committee, said the U.S. was considering invoking the Inter-American Democratic Charter in the Organization of American states.

“We’re hopeful that peer pressure, the hemisphere and the near neighbors are going to be the people who’d be able to have the greatest impact on them,” Kerry said. “But we are prepared -- if we need to -- to invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter in the OAS” and apply sanctions.

The Union of South American Nations, or Unasur, is scheduled to vote today on whether to send a mission to Venezuela to broker a peaceful end to protests that began Feb. 12. Maduro said last night he would welcome the Unasur mission.

The president had previously said he would ban representatives from the Organization of American States, which he called a “dying organization” controlled by the U.S., from entering the country.

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