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Police officer is reported killed
President Nicolas Maduro accuses the opposition of "wanting a coup"
Anti-government demonstrators pushing for a presidential recall vote in Venezuela had a message as they marched Wednesday: We won’t take no for an answer.
If officials don’t resume halted referendum proceedings, opposition leaders vowed to march to the presidential palace next week and make sure President Nicolas Maduro hears them.
At one protest, a police officer was killed, Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said on state broadcaster VTV.
Demonstrators in favor of and against the government blocked streets. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said 120 people were hurt and 147 arrested in protests across the nation. CNN could not verify Capriles’ claim.
The protests come days after officials halted the opposition’s recall vote drive, ruling that there were multiple cases of voter identity fraud.
The controversial move has fueled mounting tensions between the government and the opposition that show no sign of slowing.
Each side accuses the other of staging a coup in the country, which is edging closer to a breaking point as it faces a recession, soaring food prices and broken hospitals.
On Wednesday, demonstrators said they were determined to make their voices heard.
“If they don’t want to let us choose in an electoral voting process, they are going to have to listen to us as we march in the streets peacefully, overwhelmingly, and tirelessly until they meet the demands of the Venezuelan people,” said Hasler Iglesias, a student protest leader in Caracas.
Maduro slams opposition; calls for peace
As protesters converged at meeting points across the capital and headed for a major highway, Maduro convened a National Defense Council meeting, slamming the opposition while calling, in nationally televised remarks, for dialogue and peace.
The Vatican is set to mediate talks between the opposition and the government. But some say they are skeptical.
Dialogue is necessary, Maduro said, accusing the opposition of steering clear of talks for nefarious reasons.
“They don’t want dialogue because they want a coup,” he said.
On the streets of Caracas, Iglesias dismissed calls for dialogue Wednesday, saying talks only make sense if the Venezuelan government will listen and respond to the opposition’s demands.
“Dialogue cannot be used as blackmail or an oxygen tank to give more time to a government that each day has less time left,” he said.
Metro stations closed
Protesters also marched in cities across the country, sharing photos on social media that showed them wearing the colors of Venezuela’s flag.
Organizers of Wednesday’s protests criticized officials for shutting down some metro stations in Caracas, accusing them of trying to block demonstrations.
On Twitter, Capriles pointed to the closures as he tried to fire up support. The Caracas Metro said the stations were closed to “safeguard users, personnel and installations.”
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Opponents launched the drive to recall Maduro, but have been stymied.
And a series of recent events have deepened tensions in Venezuela’s volatile political landscape:
• Federal courts halted the recall referendum process, saying there were multiple cases of voter identity fraud
• On Sunday, opposition legislators approved a measure that declared “there had been a breakdown of constitutional order and a continued state of coup led from the highest level of government by President Nicolás Maduro”
• But then, government supporters stormed the assembly building Sunday afternoon, opposition legislators told CNN. They stole cell phones from opposition lawmakers, threw punches and vandalized the building before being persuaded to leave
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Timing is key. If there’s a recall vote to oust Maduro this year, there would be new elections. But if the vote happens in 2017, the vice president would take the reins.
If there’s no recall vote, Maduro’s presidential term is set to end in 2019.
CNN en Español’s Osmary Hernandez reported from Caracas, CNN’s Flora Charner reported from Rio de Janeiro and CNN’s Marilia Brocchetto and Catherine E. Shoichet reported from Atlanta. CNN’s Natalie Gallón, Marysabel Huston-Crespo, Julia Jones, Nelson Quinones and David Willams contributed to this report.