CARACAS, February 13, 2014 (AFP) – Venezuela’s government Thursday called for its supporters to rally against what it called fascism, a day after three people died and dozens were injured in violence at anti-government protests.
Thousands demonstrated Wednesday against rampant crime, inflation and shortages of basic goods in the biggest challenge to President Nicolas Maduro since he took over from the late Hugo Chavez last year.
The ensuing unrest prompted Maduro to warn of a coup attempt, and he vowed he would not be overthrown.
On Thursday the government remained defiant, and Venezuela’s information and tourism ministers put out a call for a new rally for late morning.
“We will gather at the attorney general’s office to repudiate violence and fascism. The coup plan will be defeated again!” wrote Tourism Minister Andres Isarra.
The government has also ordered the arrest of one of the top opposition figures, Leopoldo Lopez, a former mayor of one of Caracas’ five districts, according to local newspaper El Universal.
The paper published a photo showing the arrest warrant for Lopez, 42, who is accused of homicide and conspiracy.
Wednesday’s protests ended with three people shot to death.
The victims were a pro-government demonstrator and two student opposition protesters.
Maduro supporters also rallied Wednesday in Caracas and in other cities.
“There will be no coup d’etat in Venezuela; you can rest assured. Democracy will continue, and the revolution will continue,” Maduro declared on national television.
“Anyone who goes out to try to carry out violence will be arrested,” he pledged.
At least 80 people were detained Wednesday. These included a photographer and reporter covering the protest, the journalists union said.
And Colombian news channel NTN24, which had been featuring the protests in depth, was abruptly pulled off air.
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 battered by inflation of more than 50 percent a year.
Venezuela has had economic problems go from bad to worse amid shortages 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 unpopular currency controls.