CARACAS, VENEZUELA – Thousands of Venezuelans turned out Monday in several cities around the country to stage a "Big National Sit-in," with the opposition calling on supporters to peacefully protest against the government of Nicolas Maduro, against the "fraud" of the recently-convened constitutional assembly and in defense of the prevailing Constitution.
Despite rainy conditions, opposition supporters began gathering early Monday morning at the spots designated by the opposition MUD alliance and it is expected that the sit-in will last for 12 hours as a way of "peacefully resisting" the administration.
"We're already deployed in many cities. Remember that it's national!" said two-time presidential candidate and current Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles on Twitter.
The MUD lawmakers have published images on the social networks of citizens engaged in the sit-in in the main cities around the country and are recommending that opposition members wear comfortable clothing, bring water, food and sun protection, along with something to pass the time and enable them to entertain themselves with some kind of activity.
They are also disseminating messages asking people not to block the streets that were not included in the planning for the various sit-ins.
Although the protest was initially convened in the main Venezuelan cities, the activist leaders have also posted images in which people can be seen spontaneously staging sit-ins in smaller towns around the country.
"There are sit-ins all over the country. In Lara (state) there are more than seven, in Merida ... more than five, and in each and every one of Venezuela's states there are (unafraid supporters) fighting for our change," said the first vice president of Parliament, Freddy Guevara, on the Periscope app from Caracas.
In the capital, thousands of opposition members began to assemble along the Francisco Fajardo Highway, the city's most important traffic artery, and on Victoria Avenue, setting up chairs, flags, and bringing things to drink and eat.
Guevara reminded the protesters that "today we're in non-violent, massive, systematic resistance."
Nevertheless, opposition gatherings in Carabobo state were dispersed by police and the National Guard using tear gas and rubber bullets, and Capriles denounced the "heavy repression" and said that seven people had been injured and several more arrested.
Capriles also said that opposition members turned out in the states of Vargas, Aragua, Zulia, Trujillo and Tachira.
The national sit-in comes as part of the agenda of opposition demonstrations that were launched after the Supreme Court, which supports the government, took over many of the opposition-controlled Parliament's functions.
The pressure on the streets increased even more when Maduro on May 1 convened a national constitutional assembly to rewrite the Constitution, calling this the "only" way to achieve peace but a move its detractors say constitutes a coup d'etat and a way for the president to perpetuate himself in power.
The nationwide anti-government demonstrations launched 45 days ago have turned violent in some cases, with the toll currently standing at 39 dead, hundreds injured and more than 2,000 people arrested.