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Venezuelans show anger by chasing president

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Nicolas Maduro was chased at a routine political event by a crowd of angry protesters banging on pots and yelling that they were hungry, just days after thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets to call for his ouster, local news media reported Saturday.

Scenes from the confrontation late Friday, which also appeared in videos uploaded to social media, captured the attention of Venezuelans, many of whom blame the unpopular president for the country's food shortages.

In one video, Maduro tries to calm the pot-bangers by walking among them, only to be surrounded as the furious crowd yells obscenities.

"What is this?" an astounded voice behind the camera asks in one of the video clips.

Maduro had traveled from the capital, Caracas, to Margarita Island off Venezuela's northern coast to inaugurate a number of new public housing units and give a televised address.

During the speech, he denounced his opponents' calls for his removal from office.

Foro Penal, a Venezuelan human rights group, said 20 people had been arrested after the protest in the island town of Villa Rosa. Maduro's office made no statement about the episode.

Politicians wasted little time Saturday in using the confrontation to advance their agendas.

"The people of Villa Rosa in Margarita have no fear," wrote Henrique Capriles, an opposition governor who lost to Maduro in the presidential election in 2013. "Through banging pots, Maduro was run out of town."

Pedro Carvajalino, a pro-government television anchorman, said the protesters had been sent by Capriles and other members of the opposition. "It was a lack of respect to presidential dignity," Carvajalino said.

On Thursday, Maduro's political opponents organized a mass protest in the capital, a gathering they called "the taking of Caracas." It was the largest protest this year as many thousands descended on the capital from around the country, chanting, singing and venting frustration with the country's chronic shortages, most critically of food.

The organizers are trying to use rising anger against the president to propel an effort to recall him from office by means of a popular referendum.

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