CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – The leader of Venezuela's congressional opposition bloc was hit in the face and bloodied Thursday as he attempted to make his way into a government building.
Photographs circulating online showed Congressman Julio Borges being attacked with a pipe by men he identified as government supporters. He spoke at a press conference after the attack with blood streaming down from his nose and mouth, and bloody stains on his button-down shirt.
Borges had been attempting to enter the headquarters of the country's electoral body in downtown Caracas with other opposition figures. Security was heavy, with lines of police looking on.
Borges accused police of pushing him toward gangs loyal to President Nicolás Maduro.
"Government supporters beat us with total impunity with pipes, stones, and explosives that went off in the middle of a group of lawmakers," Borges said. "Maduro, what we want is to vote."
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The opposition is pushing for a recall referendum against Maduro this year. They accuse elections officials of dragging their feet to delay the process. Officials have accepted an initial round of signatures calling for a referendum, but the process has many more steps to go.
Borges said electoral officials refused to meet Thursday.
It was not clear what the pipe that was used in the attack was made of.
Later that day, Maduro struck an unusually conciliatory tone and condemned the incident during a televised address.
"I disavow violence in all of its forms – today, tomorrow and always," he said. "I condemn today's violence in downtown Caracas, which was a product of right-wing provocations. I call on the people to never fall for those provocations again."
It was a day of violence and chaos in the increasingly restive capital.
Across town, a smaller group of young people faced off with police. Students had planned to march from Venezuela's top university to elections headquarters, but hundreds of police in riot gear blocked the way. Students covered their faces with Venezuelan flags and threw bottles, stones and sticks while police lobbed tear gas.
In the city's largest slum, dozens of people looted bakeries and food trucks in a spat of food-related violence that has become increasingly common in recent weeks.