Venezuelans began a week-long national holiday on Thursday as some protests still simmered but President Nicolas Maduro’s government was hoping the break will take the heat out of the nation’s worst unrest for a decade.
The 51-year-old successor to Hugo Chavez brought forward by two days a long weekend national holiday for Carnival when Venezuelans traditionally abandon cities and head for Caribbean coasts.
There will be another day off for the March 5 anniversary of Chavez’s death from cancer, meaning a week-long break that officials hope will dampen student-led street protests.
In familiar scenes from the last two weeks, when one group of demonstrators tried to block a six-lane highway that runs nearby, security forces fired teargas to disperse them.
“How can you enjoy Carnival when people are dying?” read one banner waved by students at drivers in eastern Caracas as many people began to hit the highways for the coast.
Though they have presented the biggest challenge to his 10-month-old administration and the worst unrest since street rallies against Chavez a decade ago, Maduro seems to be regaining the initiative by offering dialogue with foes and consolidating his leadership of the Socialist Party by uniting factions against a common enemy.