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Venezuela: What is happening today?

A look at the country's ongoing protests against the government of President Maduro and the current political situation.

Venezuela's capital, Caracas, has seen almost daily demonstrations in recent weeks, some of which have turned violent.

Critics are accusing President Nicolas Maduro of moving towards a dictatorship, and want him to resign.

But Maduro says the opposition is conspiring with foreign entities, specifically the US, to destabilise the country.

Translation: "We have provided a fundamental backlash in the backbone of the coup that we have been already defeating," Maduro said during protests. 

Clashes broke out on Wednesday in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, where hundreds of thousands of people held rival protests amid rising tensions over the country's political crisis.

Security forces fired tear gas at anti-government demonstrators, accusing Maduro of eroding democracy and plunging the economy into chaos.

1. How did the protests start?

Instability and political turmoil reached a peak on March 30, when Venezuela's Supreme Court magistrates, aligned with socialist President Nicolas Maduro, ruled that it will take over the opposition-led Congress' legislative powers, in a move condemned by opposition parties as an attempt to install a dictatorship.

In January 2016, the Supreme Court suspended the elections of four legislators - three that were enrolled with the opposition and one with the ruling party - for alleged voting irregularities.

The opposition accused the court of trying to strip them of their super-majority, and went ahead and swore in three of the legislators in question.

In response, the Supreme Court ruled that the entire National Assembly was in contempt and all decisions it made would be null.

The deadlock continued, when electoral officials suspended a stay-or-go referendum against Maduro and postponed regional elections until 2017.

After the National Assembly refused to approve the country's state-run oil company, PDVSA ,from forming joint ventures with private companies, the government went to the Supreme Court, which ruled that it will take over the opposition-led Congress' legislative powers.

Security forces violently repressed protests that broke out the next day, and although the court quickly reversed its decision, street protests have continued.

2. What other problems is Venezuela facing?

Venezuela is not facing only one crisis but multiple interconnected crises.

Key among them is the state of the economy. In January 2017, according to estimates by the Finance and Economic Development Commission of the National Assembly (AN), it was predicted that inflation will close this year at 679.73 percent.

However according to the International Monetary Fund, this year and next year's projection is even higher. The organisation estimates that inflation will reach 720.5 percent this year, the highest in the Americas, and  2,068.5 percent by 2018. 

With the government running out of cash, imports of food and medicine have been badly affected.

However, the economic crisis is hitting Venezuela's public health system the hardest. In the country's public hospitals, medicine and equipment are increasingly not available.

READ MORE: Venezuela military controls food as nation goes hungry

During a three-year economic crisis and record levels of violent crime and poverty, Maduro's popularity has dipped to its lowest point of the last few years.

He also has been accused of using authoritarian methods to stop dissent.

Venezuela's political opposition has been represented mainly by the Democratic Unity Roundtable, a coalition of different parties including centrist, centre-left, left-wing and centre-right parties.

Many Venezuelans distrust parts of the coalition, which includes figures who were active in politics decades ago. 

The strength of the coalition has also been hit by internal power struggles as well as disagreements over ideology and policy.

3. What is the government defending? 

Maduro ordered the military on to the streets to defend the leftist “Bolivarian Revolution" launched by his late mentor Hugo Chavez in 1999.

"From the first reveille, from the first rooster crow, the Bolivarian National Armed Forces will be in the streets ... saying, 'Long live the Bolivarian Revolution'," he said in a televised address.

Maduro denounced his opponents as "traitors" and praised the military's "unity and revolutionary commitment".

 4. What are the latest developments?

Venezuelan authorities have banned top opposition leader Henrique Capriles from running for office for 15 years, the latest move in an increasingly tense power struggle.

Capriles, 44, has been the most prominent leader of Venezuela's opposition over the past decade, twice coming close to winning the presidency.

Maduro has ordered the army to march on Wednesday in "defence of morality" and "in repudiation of the traitors of the country", a demonstration of force as a rival demonstration called by the opposition is also scheduled to take place in Caracas.

Two Venezuelan students died after being shot during protests. Security forces fired tear gas at anti-government demonstrators accusing Maduro of eroding democracy and plunging the economy into chaos.

On the capital's northwest side, a student was shot in the head by motorcycle-riding gunmen who also threw tear gas canisters into a crowd of protesters; witnesses told the AFP news agency.

Waving the country's red, yellow and blue flag and shouting "No more dictatorship" and "Maduro out", tens of thousands of protesters converged from 26 different points spread across Caracas to attempt to march downtown to the Ombudsman's office. 

Despite Wednesday's deadly violence, opposition leader Henrique Capriles called for fresh protests on Thursday.

Translation: Attention our beloved Venezuela. Nobody surrenders, our duty is to defend the Constitution against the madurista self-coup! Tomorrow #20A all!, Capriles tweeted. 

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