CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Rival political factions took to the streets across Venezuela on Saturday in a mounting struggle for control of the crisis-wracked nation, where U.S.- backed opposition leader Juan Guaido is attempting to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
It was the first march Guaido has led since Maduro loyalists stripped him of legal protections he's granted as a congressman, opening a path to prosecute and possibly arrest him for allegedly violating the constitution.
The rallies also follow crippling power failures that left most of the country scrambling in the dark for days and without running water or phone service, which Maduro blamed on "terrorists" acts launched by political opponents.
Speaking before several thousand people who packed a broad Caracas avenue, Guaido urged them to stay united and to keep up pressure until Maduro leaves power.
"Something is evident today," Guaido said. "Venezuela is not afraid and continues taking the streets until we achieve freedom."
Guaido tried to channel Venezuelans' ire by calling crowds in the capital to march to the headquarters of the national power utility, Corpoelec. His supporters said the blackout is another failure of the socialist government.
"This regime has made big mistakes," said Beatriz Cisneros, a 62, critical of Venezuela's deteriorated petroleum industry, its broken educational system and hospitals that fail to provide basic care. "We're fighting for Venezuela to have liberty."
Many opposition supporters marched along a sunny main avenue carrying Venezuelan flags. A nun draped the national colors around her shoulders. Another protester carried a sign listing the lack of power, water and other basic services, along with the slogan: "Don't get used to it."
Across the country in Maracaibo, the hub of Venezuela's once-thriving oil production, members of the National Guard fired tear gas at anti-government protesters, causing some injuries, local media reported. The area has been among those hardest hit by blackouts over the past two years.
Meanwhile, large crowds of Maduro backers, many dressed in bright red and gathered in the center of Caracas, waved flags and danced to blasting music as they marched to the presidential palace.
Maduro made a new call for dialogue toward reaching peace in Venezuela with help from the fellow Latin American countries, including Mexico and Uruguay. But he also against accused his opponents inside Venezuela of staging attacks and said they should stop.