Venezuelan troops take control of plaza at heart of anti-government protests
By Andrea Rodriguez and Christopher Sherman, AP
March 19, 2014, 12:07 am TWN
CARACAS, Venezuela--Security forces on Monday took control of a Caracas plaza that has been at the heart of anti-government protests that have shaken Venezuela for a month.
Clusters of National Guardsmen patrolled Plaza Altamira and the principal streets extending from it while dozens of green-vested workers swept up debris that protesters used to block streets in the middle- and upper-class neighborhoods of eastern Caracas.
Other troops patrolled surrounding neighborhoods on motorcycles, and officials were making the takeover public relations event. At least four Venezuelan government ministers were present giving interviews about the plaza's "liberation."
"We're deployed since 3 a.m. in the entire municipality," Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said in an interview with state television from the plaza. "We're re-establishing the right of thousands of citizens of Chacao who have been forced to stay inside their homes by violent actions."
Hours after the first tear gas canister usually flies in near daily protest clashes, the plaza was free of flying rocks and water cannons Monday evening. Protesters with signs blocked the streets only when traffic lights turned red under the watchful gaze of the National Guard.
Earlier in the day, some student leaders vowed they would continue until the government meets their demands, the first of which is releasing those arrested during protests.
"You're going to have to get 60 million soldiers for us to abandon the streets of Venezuela," said Juan Requesens, president of the Central University of Venezuela, at a news conference.
Demonstrations have erupted in numerous parts of the country and the capital, though the graceful, sloping Plaza Altamira in the capital's Chacao borough has become a focal point. Peaceful daily protests have devolved each afternoon into violent clashes with tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons and Molotov cocktails.