CARACAS • Elderly protesters in Venezuela threw punches and yelled curses at riot police blocking the latest in six weeks of demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government.
Riot police with helmets and shields used pepper gas several times to control the crowd as hundreds of pensioners jostled against security lines to attempt a march from a Caracas square last Friday.
"Respect the elderly!" shouted one bearded man, throwing a punch at an officer on the front line.
"We do not want a dictatorship, we want to grow old with dignity, medicine, food and freedom," said 77-year-old Lourdes Parra, who was wrapped in a red, yellow and blue Venezuelan flag.
Since launching protests against Mr Maduro last month, the opposition has sought to vary tactics by staging silent and candle-lit marches, as well as rallies for women, musicians and medics.
Each time, the ruling Socialist Party has tried to match them. Last Friday, it organised its own rival old people's march next to the Miraflores presidential palace. "With Chavez and Maduro, the grandparents are safe," they yelled in a crowd, referring to the late president Hugo Chavez.
At least 39 people have died in the unrest since April, including protesters, government sympathisers, bystanders and security forces.
Hundreds have also been hurt and arrested.
Decrying Mr Maduro as a dictator who has destroyed the Opec nation's economy, his opponents are seeking elections, foreign humanitarian aid, freedom for hundreds of activists in jail as well as autonomy for the opposition-controlled legislature.
"Each tear gas canister costs more than the minimum (monthly) salary, the government spends more on tear gas than providing food," complained university professor Francisco Viveros, 67. "I'm here for the youth, the students, those who are going onto the streets. We've lived our lives so we should be at the front."
The opposition urged protesters across the country to come out in processions of vehicles yesterday.
Mr Maduro has accused the opposition of mounting an "armed insurgency" and a "coup".
"Nothing and no one will hold us back. We will succeed in neutralising this ambush," he vowed late last Thursday, referring to the protests. "Venezuela demands that the rioting and the coup d'etat stop."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS