Opposition activists, Maduro supporters clash in Caracas

Government supporters and opposition activists clashed Thursday in a rock-hurling brawl near Venezuela\’s election council headquarters triggered by an opposition recall campaign against President Nicolas Maduro.
Authorities were not immediately able to confirm casualties, but opposition deputy Tomas Guanipa said several people, including a fellow lawmaker, were injured in the melee.
The national press union also said on Twitter that pro-government groups assaulted journalists covering the confrontation and stole their equipment.
The violence erupted when about 150 people, including 30 lawmakers, marched toward the National Election Council to obtain forms for collecting signatures needed for a recall referendum to oust Maduro.
About 50 government supporters blocked their path, and as both sides traded insults rocks began to fly.
National Guard troops briefly separated the groups, but the government supporters broke through the cordon and forced their opponents to disperse.
Despite the "ambush," the opposition group was able to submit the forms required for the petition drive, Jesus Torrealba, the head of the Democratic Unity Roundtable, as the opposition coalition is called, said in a Tweet.
Tensions have been rising in Venezuela since the opposition gained control of the National Assembly after a landslide in December legislative elections.
Opposition leaders have called for a recall referendum as one option for pushing Maduro from office, and end a 17-year-old socialist "revolution" launched by the president\’s late predecessor and mentor Hugo Chavez.
The president\’s popularity has plummeted amid a punishing economic crisis, widespread shortages and soaring inflation in a once-booming oil-rich country, now laid low by plunging oil prices, mismanagement and corruption.
But Maduro retains de facto control of the courts and the military in addition to his administration.
Opposition activists would need to collect signatures from 20 percent of all registered voters, or nearly four million people, to force a recall election, which is allowed under Venezuela\’s constitution once Maduro reaches the middle of his term this month.
The opposition coalition also wants to push through a constitutional amendment that would reduce the current six year presidential term.
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