Women march in Venezuelan capital against socialist government

Women banged on pans and some stripped off their white shirts Saturday as they protested Venezuela's socialist government in an event the opposition billed as a "women's march against repression."

Female opposition to President Nicolas Maduro takes to the streets of Caracas, singing and chanting

A woman protests during a march against President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela, on Saturday. (Christian Veron/Reuters)

Women banged on pans and some stripped off their white shirts Saturday as they protested Venezuela's socialist government in an event the opposition billed as a "women's march against repression." As they marched, local media carried a video showing people toppling a statue of the late President Hugo Chavez the day before in the western state of Zulia.

Thousands of women took over streets in major cities all around the South American country. Wearing the white shirts of the opponents of country's increasingly embattled government, the women sang the national anthem and chanted, "Who are we? Venezuela! What do we want? Freedom!"

Some sported makeshift gear to protect against tear gas and rubber bullets. Others marched topless. One woman came in her wedding dress.

A demonstrator shouts slogans in front of police officers in Caracas during the women's march Saturday. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

As they have near-daily for five weeks, police in riot gear again took control of major roads in the capital city. Clashes between police and protesters have left some three dozen dead in the past month.

Statue torn down

Local news media on Friday carried a video circulating on Twitter of the Chavez statue being pulled down. The media reported that students destroyed the statue as they vented their anger with the food shortages, inflation and spiralling crime that have come to define life here.

Several young men could be seen bashing the statue that depicted the socialist hero standing in a saluting pose, as onlookers hurled insults at the late president.

An anti-government protester places a flower on the chest of a policewoman blocking the women's march from reaching the Foreign Ministry. (Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press)

Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez on Friday denounced the protest movement, and said opposition "terrorists" were attempting a kind of nonconventional warfare.

The protest movement has drawn masses of people into the street nearly every day since March, and shows no sign of slowing. On Saturday, some of the women marchers approached soldiers in riot gear to offer them daisies and invite them to join the cause.

'What will you tell your kids later on?'

"What will you tell your kids later on?" one woman asked.

National guardsmen have repeatedly launched tear gas and rubber bullets in more than a month of anti-government protests. Demonstrators are calling for President Nicolas Maduro to hold elections, but the embattled leader shows no sign of ceding to their demands.

The Venezuelan government has grown increasingly authoritarian since Maduro won the presidency in a special election in 2013. Last year, the government abruptly postponed regional elections that the opposition was heavily favoured to win, and cut off a petition drive aimed at forcing a referendum seeking Maduro's removal. In recent weeks, the government has announced plans to revamp the constitution and has cracked down on public protests, using its almost-complete control of Venezuela's institutions to pursue its opponents.

Protesters are demanding free elections, and autonomy for the legislature. They're also calling for freedom for scores of jailed activists, and humanitarian aid from abroad to ease shortages of things like food and medicine as Venezuela struggles with a massive economic crisis. 

A woman is surrounded by the media as she argues with the police during the women's march in Caracas. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

The tally of people reported dead by various sources is now at least 38, though the public prosecutor puts the total at 37. More than 700 others have been injured.

Opposition leaders have repeatedly called on officers to think with their conscience before launching attacks, noting that among the protesters could be their own relatives and friends.