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On the Ground in Caracas

VICE News was in Altamira Square as police and demonstrators clashed in the streets.
March 6, 2014, 11:45pm
Photo by Manaure Quintero/Transterra Media

VICE News' Alex Miller was reporting live on Thursday from Caracas’ Altamira Square, where students and opposition protesters clashed with police once again in what has become a nearly daily ritual on the capital’s streets.

After peaceful rallies organized by the student movement and opposition parties during the day, smaller groups of protesters have taken to gathering in some of the city’s more affluent areas armed with Molotov cocktails and other improvised explosives.

But on Thursday, police seemed better prepared to deal with the protesters.

“The reason why it seemed a bit crazier today is that the protesters had less of a hold on the square,” Miller said. “Police came up to them from both sides simultaneously, firing (tear gas) from both sides. They did a very good job at pushing everyone back.”

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“The protesters seemed rather taken aback,” Miller added.

In recent days, protesters had been setting up brick and metal barricades in the square, but on Thursday all barricades had been cleared.

“Three days ago they were hiding behind metal barriers,” Miller said of the protesters. “Today they were just walking closer and closer.”

Tear gas canisters, he added, hit some of them.

Large groups of men on motorbikes — usually associated with pro-government colectivos or the National Guard —also took to the square on Thursday evening, causing some panic among protesters.

“Everyone kind of lost their heads,” said Miller, who added that the bikers normally show up later in the evening, after the square has cleared. “No one fights the guys with the bikes. When the bikes turn up, you run away.”

A national guard officer was reportedly killed in eastern Caracas earlier on Thursday as members of a colectivo attempted to remove a barricade set up by protesters. Several people were also detained in the afternoon.

Opposition parties plan more protests for the days ahead, including a large rally organized for Saturday.

But with no end in sight to the protests, more than a month after they started, police indicated on Thursday that it was ready to step up its game.

“I think what this night signifies is something approaching a zero-tolerance policy,” Miller said.