Venezuelan opposition leaders have called on their supporters to gather in the capital on Thursday for what they have dubbed the ‘Takeover of Caracas.’
Their goal is to put pressure on the electoral authorities to allow a recall referendum this year, aimed at ousting President Nicolas Maduro.
Deep economic crisis
The country is in a deep economic crisis which the opposition blames on government mismanagement.
The government accuses the opposition of trying to mount a coup.
President Maduro said his administration was well prepared: “If they’re coming with coups, ambushes and political violence, the revolutionary [government] will provide an uncommon and overwhelming response.”
The president’s supporters said “they would hold counter-rallies.’’
Thousands of extra security personnel will be deployed in Caracas to police the marches.
In the run-up to the march, a number of opposition politicians were detained.
Last week, Daniel Ceballos of the opposition Popular Will party was returned to prison after having spent a year under house arrest awaiting trial on charges of rebellion.
The Interior Ministry said he was planning on escaping from house arrest to carry out acts of violence during Thursday’s rally.
Mr Ceballos was one of the politicians arrested in 2014 over violent anti-government protests that swept through Venezuela at the time.
Forty-three people on both sides of the political divide where killed during those protests.
Popular Will party activists Carlos Melo and Yon Goicoechea have also been arrested over the past few days, the first suspected of carrying a detonator cord and the latter of carrying explosives.
Many shops and businesses said they would not open on Thursday out of fear the protests could turn violent.
Come out peacefully’
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said he hoped that they could fill the main avenues of Caracas with people protesting peacefully.
“All of those who want change, come out onto the streets peacefully, the recall referendum will put an end to this disastrous government,” he said. But government politician Diosdado Cabello said he hoped that the opposition would understand that “Nicolas Maduro is president.
“We’re telling you Nicolas is not going, we’re telling you Nicolas will continue being president,” Cabello added.
The opposition hopes the march will pressure the electoral authorities into allowing them to launch the second petition needed to trigger the recall referendum as soon as possible.
Timing is key as the date when the referendum is held will determine what happens next.
If a referendum should go against the president before January 10, new elections will be held, which the opposition hopes to win. But if it is held after that date and Mr Maduro is recalled, his loyal vice-president will serve out the end of his term until 2019.
BBC /Mercy Chukwudiebere