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Thousands protest Maduro's special powers

Venezuelan opposition leader and Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles addresses supporters during a mass protest in Caracas, on November 23, 2013
Venezuelan opposition leader and Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles addresses supporters during a mass protest in Caracas, on November 23, 2013

Venezuela's opposition leader Henrique Capriles rallied thousands of demonstrators Saturday to use midterm elections to underscore public opposition to President Nicolas Maduro's special emergency powers.

The march came just hours after one of Capriles's closest aides, Alejandro Silva, was taken out of his hotel, roughed up and detained.

"All of the chaos we are seeing is going to get worse... if the ruling (socialist) party wins the midterms," he said, referring to the December 8 vote.

Maduro says he needs the strengthened hand, which he won for a year, to counter inflation and shortages his government blames on "parasitic" conservative business interests.

The opposition says the new powers are a tool granted to the government for electoral gain ahead of December 8 municipal elections.

"I am asking you. Please. Let's change this situation December 8," implored Capriles in Caracas, as rallies were held around the country.

Maduro maintains that the opposition, whom he only narrowly beat in polls following the death of longtime leader Hugo Chavez earlier this year, are waging "economic warfare" against the country.

Maduro has said he will use the year-long expanded powers to impose caps on private sector profits and crack down on speculators.

Maduro said the opposition -- without naming any names -- was using the protest to "provoke a confrontation" for which the government could be blamed.

"I voted the first time for (Maduro predecessor Hugo) Chavez. But then I was sorry. They want us to be another Cuba. It takes a week to fill up your kitchen pantry. When there is toilet paper, then there is no flour or no sugar," said clerical worker Morela Pena, 57.

Juan Carlos, a computer expert who did not want to give his family name, said the government had done good things, like lowering prices.

Supporters of Venezuelan opposition leader and Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles Radosnki shout slogans during a mass protest in Caracas, on November 23, 2013
Supporters of Venezuelan opposition leader and Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles Radosnki shout slogans during a mass protest in Caracas, on November 23, 2013

"But then everything that is marked down disappears," he said.

Two weeks ahead of the vote, "this government is weak. It has been defeated," said Julio Borges, a politician with the opposition Justice First party.

Maduro's approval rating is around 47 percent, a recent survey found.

"If you want to go out there and protest because refrigerators are now cheaper, go for it," Maduro said dismissively.

Many government critics blame OPEC-member Venezuela's economic woes on the government-imposed fixed exchange rate and price controls, saying they have led to a lack of basic goods, such as toilet paper, rice and meat.

Venezuela has been battered by a 54 percent rate of inflation, a shortage of hard currency, and widespread shortages.

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