Anti-Chavez rally clashes with supporters

 

Opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez clashed with his supporters today during a march to demand electoral reform before parliamentary elections later this year.

Six people were injured after hundreds of opponents of the populist leader marched from western Caracas to the center of the capital, where they skirmished with Chavez sympathizers in a volley of smoke bombs, rocks, bottles and fireworks.

The street clashes were the most serious violence in months between supporters of Mr Chavez and his opponents, who believe Venezuela's electoral board is biased and must be overhauled before National Assembly elections in December.

Emergency crews took wounded away on motorbikes as the two groups threw rocks and bottles at each other in downtown Caracas streets normally packed with vendors.

"A woman hit me hard in the head from behind with a stick. The metropolitan police were beside me and they did nothing," said Marisela Riera, a 50-year-old ballerina and opposition supporter, holding out her bloody hands.

Venezuela has been relatively calm since August 2004 when Mr Chavez won a referendum on his rule after two years of political violence. But foes of the populist president claim the referendum vote was tainted by fraud and that the electoral council is stacked with Chavez supporters.