Venezuelans Again Shut Down Capital to Protest Government

People gather for a silent protest outside the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Thousands of protesters hauled folding chairs, beach umbrellas and coolers onto main roads across Venezuela Monday for a national sit-in.

The “sit-in against the dictatorship” is the latest in a month and a half of street demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro that have left dozens dead. Many Caracas businesses were closed and taxi drivers suspended work in anticipation of a city-wide traffic shutdown.

Opposition leaders are demanding immediate presidential elections. Polls show the great majority of Venezuelans want Maduro gone as violent crime soars and the country falls into economic ruin.

The European Union also is calling for Venezuela elections. EU foreign ministers said Monday that “violence and the use of force will not resolve the crisis in the country.”

The U.S. has expressed grave concern about the erosion of democratic norms in the South American country. The protests were triggered by a government move to nullify the opposition-controlled Supreme Court but have morphed into a general airing of grievances against the unpopular socialist administration.

As demonstrations take over Caracas almost daily, normal life has continued but suffused with tension and uncertainty. At fancy cafes, patrons show each other the latest videos of student protesters getting hurt or statues of the late President Hugo Chavez on their phones. Working-class people who have to traverse the capital city for their jobs have adjusted their schedules to account for the daily traffic shutdowns and are taking siestas to wait out the clashes between protesters and police.

On Monday, protesters stayed in main roads for six hours then began to disperse under a heavy rain. They pledged to take to the streets again the next day.

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