Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images

Venezuelan students march to keep protests alive

But enthusiasm among opposition supporters for the street action appears to be waning

Venezuelan students are marching barefoot, building crucifixes and planning to burn effigies of President Nicolás Maduro to try and breathe new life into their protest movement over Easter.

The religious-themed demonstrations are the latest tactics in anti-government protests since early February that have convulsed the South American OPEC nation and led to 41 deaths.

But enthusiasm among opposition supporters for the street protests appears to be waning, with numbers dropping from previous months and Maduro's position seemingly safe despite his constant references to coup plots against him.

About 500 demonstrators joined Thursday's enactment of the Christian tradition of the Stations of the Cross, where Jesus was said to have stopped on his way to being crucified.

Each stop symbolized one complaint, with placards reading "devaluation," "censorship" and "insecurity" for example. Police, though, blocked them from completing all 15 stops.

Nearby in the Chacao district of Caracas, about two dozen masked youths briefly took over a bus on Thursday, before battling with police, Reuters witnesses said. Residents fled during a two-hour standoff between militant protesters throwing petrol bombs and officers responding with teargas.

Students also planned mock crucifixions for Good Friday, and to burn puppets of Maduro and the government's powerful No. 2 Diosdado Cabello, in a twist on some Catholics' custom of symbolically burning Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus.

The student activists have effectively broken with Venezuela's moderate opposition leadership, who are in talks with Maduro and his top officials in order to defuse the crisis.

Two rounds of formal talks, mediated by the Vatican's envoy in Caracas and foreign ministers from the South American bloc Unasur, have yielded few concrete results though they have calmed emotions around the country.

While both sides have agreed to form a truth commission to analyze recent events, the government has not acceded to opposition calls for an amnesty for opponents in jail.

The students, and opposition figures like jailed protest leader Leopoldo Lopez and legislator Maria Corina Machado, oppose the talks unless all opponents are freed.

Frustrated by successive election losses, the protesters took to the streets in early February demanding solutions to Venezuela's rampant violent crime, soaring inflation, and shortages of basic goods from milk to car batteries but the sometimes violent street actions failed to bring about a hoped for “Venezuelan Spring.”

Pollsters say approval levels for both Maduro and the opposition have fallen during the crisis, while an already slowing economy has suffered a further drag from the impact of violent clashes on businesses and transport.

Maduro has just celebrated the anniversary of his April 14 election last year. He wants to preserve the OPEC state's popular welfare policies while tinkering with his predecessor's statist economic model.

Critics say 15 years of autocratic socialist rule have wrecked what should be one of Latin America's most prosperous economies, as well as setting back democratic freedoms.


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