Leaders of the opposition to Venezuealan President Nicolas Maduro called Thursday’s march the “largest national mobilization in decades” and said protests would continue until the government agrees to a national referendum that could oust Maduro from power.
Although march leaders claimed the crowd numbered one million, journalists covering the event said the turn-out was 500,000 to 700,000. The government countered that only 25,000 showed up. The march stretched for about 15 kilometers through the streets of downtown Caracas.
Protesters claim that Maduro is attempting to delay a recall referendum until 2017, when he can appoint his successor if he loses. If a vote is held before December 31 and Maduro loses, a new presidential election would be called that could potentially end more than 25 years of left-wing rule in Venezuela.
The opposition delivered more than enough voter signatures to require a recall referendum months ago but the government claims it will be next year before an election can be organized. The latest polls show that Maduro would be overwhelmingly rejected in a referendum.
“We are hungry and our sick have no medicine,” said Graciela Fernandez, one of the protest leaders on Thursday. “Venezuela has the worst economy in the world thanks to this government and it is time for new leaders. Everyone here is suffering, the poor and the middle class, and we are united in our efforts for change,” she said.
Although the march was mostly peaceful, there were incidents of rock-throwing and fights been protesters and government supports along the march route.