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Massive anti-Maduro protests continue in Venezuela

Police used tear gas against demonstrators as anti-government protests continue in Caracas.

Venezuelan police fired tear gas at anti-government protesters on Saturday as demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro continued in the capital Caracas.

The protest came as the crisis-hit country continues to be rocked by an increasingly tense power struggle between Maduro and the opposition.

Authorities on Friday banned opposition leader Henrique Capriles from seeking office for 15 years for alleged administrative irregularities as governor of Miranda state, a position he has held since 2008.

The move, decried by his supporters and foreign governments, followed last week's short-lived Supreme Court decision to gut the opposition-controlled legislature of its last vestiges of power.

Venezuela has since witnessed near daily protests, by both supporters and opponents of the government. 

Addressing a crowd before Saturday's demonstration, which drew thousands, Capriles said "Nobody can disqualify the Venezuelan people."

As the most dominant figure in the opposition over the past decade, Capriles has been at the forefront of the protests, the most combative since a wave of anti-government unrest in 2014 that was blamed for dozens of deaths.

The two-time presidential candidate said on Friday the order stripping him of his ability to run in future elections only strengthens his resolve to resist on the streets. 

Many at Saturday's protest rallied behind Capriles, holding signs with his image.

"This thing that they just did to Capriles is the product of tyranny," Adel Rincones, 61, told AFP news agency.

Venezuela's powerful new vice president, Tareck El Aissami, declared Saturday's demonstration "illegal and unconstitutional," because the opposition had not received official permission for it.

'No plan B' for government

Speaking from Caracas, Anatoly Kurmanaev, a journalist with the Wall Street Journal, said anti-government protesters are "angry and determined to keep pressure on President Nicolas Maduro".

He said the main aim of the protests is to call for elections.

"The opposition feels very strong," Kurmanaev said. "There's absolutely no way the government could win elections right now given the deep political crisis."

He added that the government is "doubling down" against the opposition.

"There is no plan B for them, repression is all they have left," he said.

READ MORE: Venezuela military controls food as nation goes hungry

On Thursday, one anti-government protester was killed during clashes with police. One police officer has been arrested.  

Nearly 100 people have also been detained over the past few days, according to rights group Penal Forum. 

Supporters of Maduro have also staged protests across the country this week.

Maduro's government has said a US-backed business elite is responsible for Venezuela's economic downturn, and it is trying to foment a coup to impose right-wing rule.

The South American country is suffering from triple-digit inflation, shortages of basic foods and medicines, and one of the world's highest murder rates.

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