Ceremonies and clashes mark first anniversary of Hugo Chavez’s death

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 March, 2014, 9:34pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 March, 2014, 9:34pm


Venezuela marked the first anniversary of Hugo Chavez's death with a blend of solemn ceremonies, clashes and a break in relations with Panama over protests dogging his successor's presidency.

President Nicolas Maduro led a military parade on Wednesday with tanks, fighter jets and elite troops before a ceremony next to his mentor's marble tomb in former barracks that sit atop a Caracas slum.

Soldiers fired a cannon salvo at the time of Chavez's death, 4.25pm, from the Mountain Barracks that have become a pilgrimage site for his supporters.

The commemorations were marred by clashes in the capital's eastern middle-class district into the evening, hours after hundreds of anti-government students marched in the latest show of discontent in a month of demonstrations.

About 200 national guard troops, backed by six armoured trucks, fired tear gas and birdshot at dozens of hardline protesters, who lobbed firebombs after blocking streets with concrete blocks and burning rubbish.

At least 18 people have died during anti-government protests since early February. Maduro has denounced the protests as part of a US-backed plot by "fascists" to overthrow him.

The protests have posed the biggest challenge yet to Maduro's presidency. Analysts say his government remains sturdy enough to withstand the pressure.

Standing next to the Chavez tomb, Maduro railed against the Washington-based Organisation of American States and declared that he was breaking relations with Panama over its request for an OAS meeting about Venezuela's unrest.

"Nobody will conspire with impunity to ask for an intervention against our fatherland. Enough!" Maduro thundered as presidents Raul Castro of Cuba, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Evo Morales of Bolivia looked on.

He called Panama's President Ricardo Martinelli a lackey of the United States.

Chavez's hand-picked successor was elected by a thin margin in April, defeating opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who cried foul and refused to recognise the poll's results.

Though the government is not as strong as a year ago, there "is no counter-power that can be considered enough to transition to another regime", Central University of Venezuela professor Carlos Romero said.