Venezuelan protests continue, while government celebrates diplomatic victory

On Saturday, Venezuelans rallied for an 'empty posts march' to protest shortages. On Friday, the Organization of American States approved a resolution for the government's peace initiative, with only the US, Canada, and Panama voting against it.

By , Associated Press

Anti-government protesters clashed with the police in Caracas on Thursday, in another day of unrest marked by the death in separate clashes of a National Guard member and a motorcycle driver.

Venezuelans returned to the streets in protest Saturday, while the government continued to celebrate a diplomatic victory in the Organization of American States.

Students called Saturday's demonstration the "empty pots march" to highlight Venezuelans' growing frustration with shortages of some everyday items. In Caracas, the march was scheduled to end at the country's Food Ministry, but the evening before Caracas' mayor announced that he had not authorized the march. Hundreds of riot police and National Guardsmen were posted in the area Saturday morning.

President Nicolas Maduro was scheduled to appear at a separate event recognizing the international day of the woman. Maduro has faced several weeks of daily student-led protests in Caracas and some other cities. The protests have been joined by mostly middle-class Venezuelans fed up with inflation that reached 56 percent last year, the shortages of items such as flour, cooking oil and toilet paper, and one of the highest murder rates in the world.

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Late Friday in Washington, the Organization of American States approved a declaration that rejected violence and called for justice for the 21 people the government says have died in weeks of street protests. The resolution also offered "full support" for the Venezuelan government's peace initiative, in which the opposition has so far refused to participate. Student and political opposition leaders, one of whom is jailed, have refused to engage in dialogue with the government until all jailed protesters are released.

Twenty-nine countries voted in favor of the declaration, but the United States, Panama and Canada voted against it at the conclusion of 15 hours of debate spread over two days. Venezuela broke off relations with Panama, expelling its ambassador and three other diplomats, this week after that country asked the body to discuss the situation in Venezuela.

The objections from the U.S. and Panama attached to the declaration were longer than the declaration itself. They argued the declaration violated the body's own rules against picking sides.

"The OAS cannot sanction a dialogue in which much of the opposition has no voice and no faith," according to the U.S. objection. "Only Venezuelans can find the solutions to Venezuela's problems, but the situation in Venezuela today makes it imperative that a trusted third party facilitate the conversation as Venezuelans search for those solutions."

In a telephone interview with Venezuelan state television Friday night, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said it was a victory for Latin American and the Caribbean.

Venezuelan government spokeswoman Delcy Rodriguez tweeted: "The meddling minority against Venezuela in the OAS, Panama, Canada and the U.S., is defeated in a historic decision that respects our sovereignty."

The government and opposition appear to have reached a stalemate, in which street protests continue daily while the opposition sits out a peace process it calls farcical.

Associated Press writers Fabiola Sanchez and Jorge Rueda in Caracas and Luis Alonso in Washington contributed to this report.

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