CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's opposition marched in silence on Saturday to honor a dozen people killed in three weeks of protests demanding that the government of President Nicolas Maduro hold delayed elections and address a growing economic crisis.
Twelve people have been killed in a renewed wave of demonstrations this month in incidents primarily involving security forces or armed civilians. Another eight were electrocuted in a looting incident that took place following a protest.
Thousands of people dressed in white shirts marched to the headquarters of the country's Catholic archdiocese on the west end of Caracas.
"We want free elections, we want to get rid of this corrupt government," said Iomira Barrios, 60, an environmental consultant who says she can no longer find work.
"Right now people are willing to fight, because they have declared a dictatorship and we cannot allow it."
Anger over the OPEC nation's triple-digit inflation and Soviet-style product shortages boiled over after the Supreme Court last month briefly assumed the powers of Congress, triggering accusations that Maduro was building a dictatorship.
The court reversed course after international condemnation, but Maduro's government further fueled the protests by barring the opposition's most popular politician, Henrique Capriles, from holding office for 15 years.
Ruling Socialist Party officials say the demonstrations, in which protesters throw rocks at police and block streets with burning debris, are violent disruptions of public order meant to overthrow the government.
The opposition says the elections council should call elections for governors that were supposed to be held last year, and accuse the council of indefinitely delaying them because the Ruling Socialist party would likely lose in many states.
The next presidential elections are scheduled for late 2018.
Demonstrations have generally started with daytime marches that are broken up by National Guard troops. They usually devolve from there into confused melees between troops and hooded protesters that stretch well into the evening.
The last week has seen an increase in late-night looting in working class areas. Unrest that began late on Thursday night in the Caracas neighborhood of El Valle left eleven people dead from either electrocution or gunfire.
The economy has been in free-fall since the collapse of oil prices in 2014. Once a generous oil-financed welfare state, Venezuelan consumers now struggle to obtain basic food and medicine.
Additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Diane Craft