Crowds decline at Venezuela protests amid fears of crackdown

Crowds decline at Venezuela protests amid fears of crackdown

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A modest crowd of Venezuelans took to the streets Saturday to show support for the opposition-led congress which is coming under increasing pressure from the government of President Nicolás Maduro.

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó addressed several hundred people who had gathered in the capital in support of his bid to oust the socialist president, urging them to press forward with their campaign.

But the noticeably diminished crowds reflected a growing fear and demoralization that has permeated Guaidó's ranks of supporters after he led a failed military uprising on April 30. In previous months, thousands of demonstrators heeded his calls to protest.

"We live in dictatorship," Guaidó said. "We don't have the option to stay at home waiting, but to keep demanding our rights in the streets."

The march comes days after Venezuelan security forces arrested National Assembly Vice President Edgar Zambrano, the body's No. 2 leader. Other lawmakers also scrambled for refuge in the embassies of Italy, Argentina and Spain amid renewed fears of a crackdown following the unsuccessful military rebellion.

In January, Guaidó boldly declared himself interim president of Venezuela, arguing that Maduro illegitimately won a second term in rigged elections. He has gained the backing of the United States and more than 50 nations.

Maduro, however, has maintained control of the military by securing the loyalty of top commanders. He calls Guaidó a "puppet" of the Trump administration and says that the U.S. is supporting a coup to oust him to exploit the country's vast oil wealth.

"The U.S. Empire aims to end the Bolivarian Revolution," Maduro tweeted early Saturday, boasting of the country's education and social security systems. "We show the world that we can do social justice."

A once-wealthy oil nation, Venezuela has sunk into economic and social collapse marked by soaring inflation and a scarcity of basic goods that has sent an estimated 3.7 million of its citizens to emigrate.

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