Sunday, April 22, 2018

Candidate leads Venezuela's largest opposition rally in years

CARACAS, Venezuela — A crowd filled the streets of Venezuela's capital on Sunday cheering for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, waving flags in a show of support one week before the country's hotly contested presidential election.

Capriles waved from a truck that rolled through the expanse of supporters. The crowd overflowed from Bolívar Avenue, which according to some estimates has a capacity to hold about 260,000 people. Authorities didn't provide a crowd estimate.

"Bolívar Avenue is too small for us," Capriles shouted to the crowd, which was the largest of any opposition gathering in recent years.

While President Hugo Chávez led a rally with tens of thousands of supporters in western Zulia state on Sunday, authorities were investigating the shooting deaths of two men elsewhere during an opposition campaign caravan on Saturday.

Capriles condemned the killings from western Barinas state.

"On Oct. 7 we're going to defeat violence in Venezuela," he said. "Our country is tired of the violence, of the division, of the confrontation. … The time of hatred is going to be buried in Venezuela."

Chávez also lamented the violence, calling for his supporters not to "fall for provocations" at election time.

"I ask all Venezuelans, it's not with violence that we're going to face each other. It's vote against vote," he said.

Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said in a message on Twitter that a suspect was arrested in the killings, but he didn't immediately identify him.

Opposition lawmaker Julio César Reyes said on Saturday that a group of Chávez's supporters blocked the caravan and people on both sides were arguing when a gunman appeared and started shooting. Both men killed were Capriles supporters.

Violence has erupted previously during the campaign, but these were the first deaths.

Many analysts say they expect a tight race. A recent poll by the Venezuelan firm Consultores 21 put the two candidates roughly even.

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