CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – Scores of opponents of President Nicolas Maduro marched in Caracas on Saturday, vowing to remain on the streets in defiance of a high court ruling limiting protests.
Student organizers at the last minute decided against marching downtown to avoid a confrontation with security forces in the government-controlled district. Instead they concentrated in the wealthier, eastern neighborhoods that have been the hotbed of unrest since February.
Demonstrators carried signs on Saturday blasting a Supreme Court ruling this week that gives police the right to disperse protests that don't have a permit. Opponents say the ruling is the latest attempt by the socialist government to muzzle dissent amid widespread discontent with 57 percent inflation and record shortages.
Protests that the government blames for more than 40 deaths have lost some of their momentum in recent weeks in the face of a government crackdown and an attempt at dialogue by some members of the opposition.
While Maduro is unlikely to cede to opposition demands that it grant an amnesty for jailed activists, the negotiations could force him to loosen the state's tight grip on the economy, said Dimitris Pantoulas, a Caracas-based political consultant.
He points to the government's wink-wink approval of recent price increases for regulated goods and its willingness to divert government savings earmarked for social spending to fund private investments as a sign of encroaching pragmatism.
"Just sitting across the same table as the government is something the opposition hasn't achieved in 15 years" of socialist rule, said Pantoulas.
While students are boycotting the talks, they're asserting considerable pressure on the negotiators by refusing to abandon the streets. For more than a month, dozens have been camping outside the offices of the United Nations, blocking several lanes of traffic on one of the capital's busiest thoroughfares.