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Venezuelan students attempt march on Defense Ministry in bid to spur opposition

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By Brian Ellsworth

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan university students attempted to march on the Defense Ministry on Thursday to demand that the armed forces “side with the constitution” and help oust President Nicolas Maduro as the opposition tries to revive its flagging movement.

Several hundred students had gathered in the Central University of Venezuela’s campus, chanting slogans and singing the national anthem. But their route to the ministry was blocked by hundreds of riot police and national guard troops. There were no reports of clashes.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido last week initiated a new wave of demonstrations to topple the deeply unpopular Socialist Party, which has clung to power despite a gruelling economic crisis. But Guaido’s return-to-the-streets strategy has left many unconvinced.

Turnout at the protests he called on Saturday was far lower than earlier in the year. In January, Guaido assumed an interim presidency after declaring Maduro’s 2018 re-election a fraud. His supporters are frustrated that, ten months on, Maduro remains in power despite aggressive U.S. sanctions and over 50 nations recognising Guaido as the rightful president.

Thursday’s protest also appeared to be attracting fewer students than before, though attendees said they remained determined.

“The Central University of Venezuela will never give up in the face of a regime that simply wants to ignore the people and for those in the street to remain silent,” said Jesus Carrero, a 19-year-old international studies student.

Student organizers called the march with the intention of walking 5 kilometres (3 miles) to the Defense Ministry, which is inside the Fuerte Tiuna military base, to try to sway the armed forces.

Guaido has repeatedly called for military commanders to rebel but an April 30 uprising fizzled out after the top brass declared loyalty to Maduro. So far, the government has been successful at suppressing dissent among troops and rewarding top officers.

“We are with the students, we are with the present and the future of Venezuela,” Guaido said on Twitter.

(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth, Writing by Angus Berwick, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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