Venezuela's right-wing opposition took to the streets in Caracas Thursday in a menacing march to prod state elections officials to speed up the legal process for a recall referendum to remove President Nicolas Maduro from office before the end of 2016.
Due to the threats of violence, extra police and troops were positioned across the city—with roadblocks expected—to prevent a repeat of past violent actions by the right-wing opposition, led by the Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition.
In some parts of the city, opposition protests turned violent, as people were caught on film burning cars and debris, trying to close down streets, throwing molotov cocktails and attacking police.
Organizers had dubbed the rally the "Taking of Caracas," and some prominent opposition figures had made thinly-veiled threats of violence if the National Electoral Council doesn't reverse its decision that the referendum can't possibly be held this year.
53-year-old Maduro has said the opposition rally is intended to disguise a coup, similar to the 2002 attempt to overthrow the democratically-elected government of his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.
As a result, thousands of pro-government supporters have also streamed into the streets of Caracas to defend the Bolivarian revolution, and prevent a repeat of the 2014 right-wing "guarimbas," which left 43 dead and over 870 injured.
The referendum date is important because if President Nicolas Maduro is removed from office after January 10, 2017, representing the four-year-mark of his term, his vice-president, who is also a socialist and Chavista, would serve the remaining two years of his administration.
"The people didn’t stay at home, they went out to the streets and will always do this. This is a conscious people and will be mobilized forever," Maduro said, at the rally.
The president called on the Venezuelan people to defend peace in the capital city and fight against the right-wing's constant plans to destabilize and fill the city with violence.
"They have failed once again, victory belongs to the people, to peace and to the revolution," said Maduro.
"We have to come out and fight for a free Venezuela! We can't take this any more," said Elizabeth De Baron, 69, a secretary traveling 25 miles from the town of Guarenas.
The schedule for the recall referendum was announced on Aug. 10 by the National Electoral Council president, Tibisay Lucena, and the next stage of the process was announced Monday and will be held from Oct. 24-30, when the right-wing forces, led by the Democratic Unity Roundtable, will have to collect 20 percent of signatures from registered voters in order for the recall process to move forward, representing 3.9 million people in total.
President Maduro said on Tuesday that the political party Voluntad Popular, led by the imprisoned leader Leopoldo Lopez and his wife Lilian Tintori, is behind a coup plot against his government. He also said he is considering stripping all Venezuelan politicians of immunity protections to allow the courts to prosecute suspected coup-plotters working in Parliament.
His administration strengthened security measures ahead of Thursday's marches and Maduro has also warned that anyone involved in violent acts will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Earlier this week a group of hardline government opponents was arrested after authorities found them with explosives and the uniforms of the National Armed Forces.
Meanwhile, supporters of the government have reiterated their call for peace in order to achieve stability in Venezuela. In recent months there has been a wave of violence against government supporters, left-wing activists and public servants, which many believe is an attempt to undermine the future of the Chavista movement in the country.