Thousands have marched in Venezuela to pressure President Nicolas Maduro's government before December 8 local elections. At a rally in Caracas, opposition leader Henrique Capriles denounced the arrest of an aide.
On Saturday, Capriles told more than 3,000 people that agents arrested his aide overnight. The government made no official comment on the fate of Alejandro Silva, whose whereabouts remain unknown. However, Tourism Minister Andres Izarra wrote on Twitter that authorities had detained one of the "fascist henchmen" under Capriles.
"Maduro, don't be a coward! ... You want to put me in prison, come for me! I'm not afraid," Capriles said in Caracas to cheers, many wearing the blue, yellow and red of the Venezuelan flag.
The vote for control of 335 municipalities represents the president's first major test since he defeated Capriles to win the April election following the death of Hugo Chavez. The coalition led by Capriles hopes to get the combined majority of votes nationwide with a strong showing in large metropolitan areas such as the capital, where the faction currently holds just one of the five electoral districts.
"If they win on December 8, all the chaos we're experiencing will worsen," Capriles said.
‘Homeland and happiness'
The government charges that marching with the opposition supports what Maduro calls the "speculators." Maduro blames business for an annual inflation rate that neared 55 percent last month and a black market exchange for dollars that has risen to some nine times the official level of 6.3 bolivars (about 70 euro cents).
"It's class warfare ... we love the homeland and happiness, and others want to concentrate power and riches in a few hands and exploit the people," Vice President Jorge Arreaza said.
On Tuesday, the Chavista-dominated National Assambly gave Maduro decree powers, something he had long sought. To appease consumers, the president has forced retailers to lower prices. Officials ensure retailers don't evade caps on prices and profits. Maduro asked the public to join the effort rather than march with the opposition.
The faction led by Capriles counters that Maduro's "economic offensive" amounts to punishing honest business owners and only makes things worse. Two weeks after Maduro ordered the military to occupy several retail chains and slash prices on refrigerators, televisions and other appliances, long lines of bargain hunters continue to form outside stores in Caracas and elsewhere.
On Friday, the president said he ordered the arrest of two unnamed opposition officials whom he accused of trying to pay individuals to disguise themselves as government supporters and attack Saturday's opposition rallies, with the goal of blaming his administration for any bloodshed.
"They're looking for a death in order to try to light a fuse," Maduro said. "We won't allow it."
Rallies in solidarity with the opposition are being held elsewhere in Latin America, such as outside the Venezuelan embassy in Lima, Peru.
mkg/jm (reuters, dpa, AP)