Thousands of protesters took to the streets in cities throughout Venezuela on Saturday after the government banned an opposition politician from running for office. The demonstrations come amid escalating political tensions, which hit a fever pitch last week after the Supreme Court stripped Congress of its powers. The decision, later reversed, saw soldiers deployed to deal with thousands of angry protesters. Many of those same protesters – already distrustful of the current government – kicked into action again Saturday to support the banned opposition politician. Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles, an opposition politician who twice ran for president, was banned Friday from holding political office for 15 years. The official reason for the ban was cited as “administrative irregularities,” though Capriles’ supporters say the move was arbitrary and meant to boot Capriles out of the 2018 election. “The government is afraid. If it were not afraid, it would not close the streets. ... It would not disqualify Capriles,” a demonstrator named Gikeissy Diaz told Reuters.
Amid a debilitating economic crisis and mounting political friction in the country, the opposition sees Capriles as their best chance at winning the upcoming election against President Nicolas Maduro. Vice President Tareck El Aissami has accused Capriles of inciting violence by protesting against Maduro, however. Late Friday, El Aissami railed against demonstrators, condemning the protests as “illegal and unconstitutional” because he said they didn’t seek the proper permits.