Thousands of students have clashed with police in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, during a protest against proposed constitutional changes.
The protesters largely appeared to be university students
Police fired tear gas at students angry at plans to let President Hugo Chavez stand for indefinite re-election as bottles and stones were thrown.
Mr Chavez would also be allowed to bypass legal controls on the executive during a state of emergency.
Parliament, composed of Chavez allies, is now debating the changes.
They will be subjected to a popular referendum later this year.
Students had chanted "Reform, no - democracy, yes" as they tried to reach parliament.
Scuffles began when they tried to push through police lines.
Mr Chavez insists that the reforms are necessary
Student leader Stalin Gonzalez said at least five demonstrators had suffered minor injuries, the Associated Press reports.
"There is... a part of this country that rejects these reforms and we want to be heard," Mr Gonzalez told a local television station.
Protesters complained that police had stopped their march from reaching the National Assembly while the authorities frequently allow Chavez supporters to stage street demonstrations without restrictions.
"It's clear proof of political discrimination," said Mr Gonzalez.
Among the students' concerns about the erosion of civil liberties is the fear that the authorities will be allowed to detain citizens without charge during a state of emergency.
Mr Chavez has dismissed criticism of the constitutional changes saying they are needed to accelerate Venezuela's transition to socialism.
Your accounts and comments:
I was at the protest, and the counter-protests yesterday. Police cleared the streets and allowed the students to march through the main streets of the city until they arrived within one block of the National Aseembly. The National Assembly and the protests were surrounded by Chavistas. Elements on both sides were itching for a fight with the other, and the police kept them a block a apart at all locations, with general success. As the marchers returned to the university, I was hit by a bottle thrown by the students at the (mostly Chavist) onlookers, and the Chavistas returned in kind. Police tear gased the area between the groups, to successfully separate them again. The police here are corrupt and irresponsible but handled themselves well yesterday.
Vincent , Caracas, Venezuela
I am a 23 year old science graduate student. I went to the march because of the academic content of my faculty is being destryoed by ideology. We no longer have freedom of thought. I personally do not believe in totalitarism though I know many say that we have now had too much democracy and doctatorship is the only way. Our march was peaceful and the police behaved well for once but pro-Chavez elements attacked us with violence. In particular beer bottles, bricks, metal, stones and feces were thrown at us from government buildings including the Ministry for Science & Technology. Why does the government not want us to express our views? We are Venezuelan too.
Simon Rodriguez, Maracaibo, Zulia
A couple of things you failed to mention: buses with students going to Caracas from other cities to the protests are ALWAYS stopped by the military (others are not). Students had an authorization to go further and yet the police wanted them to remain three blocks back from where they had the permit. This happens all the time and the Chavista supporters are allowed to get around the city centre. Some of the reforms you fail to mention will lead to gerrymandering by Chavez: he will be able to dissolve the last few regional governments (a couple of mayors) where the opposition has representation, the so-called "popular councils" will do away with secret voting at communal level, the education and everything else would need to be "Socialist". I wonder when are the social democrats going to have the guts to say something abroad? If they remain silent now, they will be accomplices of the regime.
One thing your report does not say, which it should, is that it is not campaigning time yet on the new constitution. Therefore, the National Guard/Police are complying with the law by preventing any marches - until the legal campaigning time begins for both sides. The organizers of the march were fully aware of this.
Miguel, Caracas, Venezuela
In England, 'the cradle of democracy' we have a law preventing anyone (including students) demonstrating near Parliament. There have been plenty of demonstrations in the past where students have been charged by riot police on horses (including myself). Is this the democracy that students protesters want in Venezuela? I'd rather have Chavez than our 'democrats' (a politically corrupt class)in service to rich cronies. Some rich students in Venezuela would no doubt prefer the latter (and are upset their parents privileges are under attack)
Please, people who live abroad (USA in this case). This is our problem. Don't give any opinion when you are not suffering this situations like us. It's easier to be a communist in capitalist country. The majority of Venezuelans disagree with the new changes in the Constituion. Mr Chavez is becomming a dictator formally. We know that because we see the whole situation day by day. That is the reality. Students, thanks for being so brave and patriotic in this very important time. Carry out!!!
Carolina Cadenas, Caracas. Venezuela
To tell the truth I haven't been back to Caracas since just before Chavez was elected and I'm not surprised that he won! Things were bad then. Even as a child I was amazed at what I saw on the streets, such things were the norm. I was amazed at the attitudes of the upper classes towards people that weren't "Normal", in other words what they would consider as white... Almost all of my cousins go or did go to private school, as my father tells me that it is important, as employers are prejudiced towards those who go to public school. This is an accepted fact. Those who were born with money, look at the poor as prospective house cleaners/live in child minders/domestic help. There is very much an attitude of the poor are poor because they are lazy and I know that those who were able to get themselves out of poverty are now finding it hard. But at last those less fortunate are being given access to education now, giving them the chance of a better future. Those with money are upset that someone has come along to burst their comfortable bubble. I wonder how many of these students have been to a shanty town? I'd like to hear the point of view of more Venezuelans, that don't have access to the Internet at home. That would be the only way to have a proper all round view of whats really going on. The world didn't care about Venezuela before Chavez! I hope things get better for all Venezuelans, but he is the best thing that has happened for the poor.
Carolina (British Venezuelan), London
Yes I assisted at the National Asembly against the student march. The world should realize the march was only of fascist imperialist students organized and funded by the CIA as part of a campain to distablize our country. We will not permt them to march and infiltrate our democratic instituions. They must be stopped by force. Viva El Comandante Chavez!!
Jose Hernandez , Caracas, Venezuela
I would describe the atmosphere as almost festive up until a certain point (though its purpose never forgotten). Chants void of political influence, pertaining to specific alma maters or glorifying students as a whole were heard as frequent as those against the reform and the administration. From my perspective, tensions began to rise around the time the march encountered the first barricade. Here, possible sparked by the firecrackers and tear-gas, the students donned their riot gear (which consisted of a mask of toothpaste and a vinegar soaked handkerchief) in preparation for the worst, however the police from then on surprised me with their respect and restraint. As mentioned in other comments, the majority of the resistance came from those in favor of the current government, who either did not appear or chose not to present their opinions until towards the end of the manifestation (however any opinions presented were drown-out by those of the march). The incidences involving violence appeared to be few and contained to a very small group, though I did encounter a female student who incurred a split lip while clashing with the first police barricade.
David Saenz, Caracas, Venezuela
I am 17, a high school student, and was attending the march. (The protest was organized by the students, and I would say that more than two thirds of the people present were university students.) As BBC reports, we encountered light resistance from the police (which acted in accordance with their protocol). The people that support Chavez, on the other hand, threw bottles and stones when we tried to get near the General Assembly. If the Constitutional Reform is passed, more than 40 articles will be modified for the benefit of Hugo Chavez, who is blindly driving the country to ruins in his search for the long-lost communism.
Jose Diaz, Caracas, Venezuela
I was in the protest, the "Chavistas" (people that support Chavez) start to throw Publicity, CD´s of the President singing Folklore Song´s (i broke almost all of it) and, like always, partidist of the "Chavismo" began to throw bottles, rocks, and hard objects to try to stop us to reach our Goal, and the police built a lot of human-Walls, but we got enougth, we started to fight against them, and we won!... We go to a new Cuba, and so appears that nobody is going to help us...STUDENTS MOVEMENT!!!...
Students Movement!!! (Victor ), Caracas, Venezuela
...what actually happened was that students and other demonstrators where marching towards the parlament as a protest, yes, but the ones trowing bottles and stones and "rioting" where people that support Chavez, in an attempt to stop the students to getting near the parlament to hand out a letter of petitions...
Valentina Tepedino, Caracas, Venezuela
I participated in the protest and I felt afraid because I didn't feel safe. I didn't feel that the national guard or the police were there to protect us. Glass bottles and stones were thrown from government buildings at the students and the national guard did nothing. The reform means that Chavez will be all-powerful and freedom of expresion will be very limited, more than it already is. Respect for human rights is no longer guaranteed. You can think what you like, but its silly to defend a totalitarian socialist regime when you are comfortably living in a first world country. I don't think that that qualifies you to make an intelligent comment on the situation in Venezuela.
Veronica, Caracas, Venezuela
I saw it on the one TV station still relatively free. The remarkable thing was that after a light skirmish, the municipal police did not oppose being pushed aside by the advancing student demonstration - or it was a last-minute change in tactics to show how "democratic" the regime is. The National Guard attitude was more hostile yet also non-violent. Another student march is announced for next Thursday, again to press for postponment of the constitutional changes.
pedro (this is a pseudonym, my full name is not for publication), caracas, venezuela
I helped organize protests in NYC against restructuring of the City University. Many of the students were from working class backgrounds, and of the thousands who showed up at City Hall, the overwhelming majority where black or of Latin American descent. 7,000 police were mobilized to contain the protests. I myself was beaten and hospitalized in the days leading up to it... Our demands were for an open university that served the entire population. These student protesters are far more concerned with defending their wealth and priviledge. Their right-wing leaders supported a military coup, a coup who's leader now sits at liberty in Miami, Florida. I have to say that North Americans are getting sick of a lying, right-wing media that only respects dissent when it looks down at the people and proclaims a democratic and socialist government a tyranny. Where were these heroic students when the coup leaders shot people down in the streets of Caracas? Where were they when democracy was truly spit on? They were cheering. The fact is that Venezuela has more students than ever, less censorship than ever and is actually repossessing their national wealth away from the foreign oil companies and the parasitic elite that views Venezuela's patrimony as their personal inheritance. BBC. Fox News. CNN. RCTV... We've had enough.
Jed Brandt, New York City
To Jed Brandt, New York City: hahaha it is really easy to speak about a protest in venezuela while living in NYC, i only have to say: come down here! try to live for a week in a country that doesnt have any law at all! come and see how 80% of the people cant buy enought food to feed their family! our students didnt protest for their wealth and priviledge, they protest because every day we are poorer and poorer, with oil prices in 90$! our rights are going to be eliminate completly... you dont understand this, do yo? of course you dont, because you live in a free country! with democracy! you can say wathever you want, go any place in your city you want, you can actually live with the money that you earn! that is what we want too, so, if you dont know really what is happening here, please, stay out of it
Mary, Caracas Venezuela
To Jed Brandt, I believe like you that what caused all the political changes in Venezuela in the past years was a consequence of a corrupt "pseudodemocracy" that was supported by the wealthy elite but, I cannot understand why a thinking, intelligent person as you seem to be, that you would believe that Chavez and his populism is the answer. I spoke a few months ago with a person in Venezuela that lives in the "barrios" in Caracas. This person works six days a week like she has done since she was ten years old. What I heard from this person with no formal education of any kind surprised me. Thanks to a "kitchen program" that Chavez and his people created of free food to the poor now some people that use to work two or three days a week now do not even make the effort of looking for jobs except to belong to the so-called "militias" that are supported by the government. Jed you cannot make people "equal" by force because then to whom are you gonna make them equal to?
Ana Mintz, Atlanta, GA
Wow....Someone fell asleep at the wheel with Chavez. This protest is unbelievably poignant as a sincere cry from the higher educated populous to the masses to wakeup and see that their democracy is being ripped from under them. Chavez's handling of this response to his actions will certainly be interesting. If he truly means well ...we will see. Unfortunately one of the very real effects of power is, over time it will eventually always corrupt.
Nat, Pembroke Pines, Florida.USA
As a Venezuelan liven abroad, I am sadden to see the state that Chavez has brought to Venezuela. I encourage all the educated masses of Venezuela to wake up and take action, democracy must be preserved and the "real" news must be reported. Thanks to BBC for allowing those who witness to express themselves. Chavez has done nothing more than use those in need to drive his movement towards "autocracy". In the end nonone is benefiting.
Gabriela Denning, Atlanta, GA, USA
President Chavez sees himself as the successor to Cuba's Castro and as such has set Venezuela on a course to copy verbatim the Cuban constitution. Once the constitutional referendum is passed, there will be absolutely no checks and balances on Chavez perpetuating his regime indefinitely. The proposed constitutional "reforms" concentrate power in the executive, threaten private property and subordinate all branches of power to the personal whim of the president, including the creation of non-professional militias answerable only to the Head of State. They are a thinly veiled means of achieving absolute power. As such, the students are absolutely right to oppose a democratic roll back in what was once Latin America's most durable democracy.
miguel silva ramos, caracas, Venezuela
The demonstration of today displays that youth people are the one that should carry the command of the fight against this government, they should not fear the police must give everything for the whole. Today showed that at the heart of caracas must say enough is enough to do so east of the city. Those who marched today deserve applause
Manuel Gago, Caracas Venezuela