Silent marches across Venezuela following deadly protests

Thousands of Venezuelans have dressed in white and marched in silence to pay their respects to the 20 people killed in anti-government protests over the past three weeks.

For the first time since the unrest began, demonstrators were able to pass through several pro-government districts in Caracas without resistance from security forces.

They have been protesting almost daily – angered by triple-digit inflation, widespread shortages of food and medical supplies, and the policies of President Nicolas Maduro.

At the start of April, there was further outrage when the pro-government Supreme Court stripped congress of its remaining powers. That decision was later reversed following international condemnation.

Maria Corina Machado, who lost her seat in congress in 2014, told protesters in the capital: “Let it be heard: the dictatorship is in its final days.”

In response, the crowd shouted “Freedom! Freedom!”

The demonstrators want elections to be called immediately in Venezuela, and for dozens of jailed government opponents to be released.

Polls suggest 70% of Venezuelans disapprove of Mr Maduro’s socialist presidency, but his term in office is not due to end until 2019.

One protester, Jessica Muchacho, said: “We’ve nothing left to lose. The government’s already taken everything, all possibility of living our lives with dignity.”

Opposition leaders are planning a return to more confrontational protests on Monday, with politicians urging Venezuelans to block roads in a bid to grind the country to a halt.

One leader, Henrique Capriles, told supporters: “Keep coming out into the streets – this isn’t a time to give up, it’s a time to resist.”

There were a few minor scuffles in the eastern Caracas, with riot police using tear gas against masked protesters who threw rocks.

Mr Maduro says the protests are part of a US-backed coup plot, while other government leaders claim the violence has been generated by right-wing opposition forces who are working with criminal gangs in an attempt to remove them from power.

Diosdado Cabello, leader of the ruling socialist party, recently told his supporters: “These are terrorist groups on a mission to sow hate and death.”