Venezuelans fill streets of capital

Venezuelans of every age, class and profession poured into the streets of the capital on Wednesday to demand that President Nicolas Maduro step down and to express their support for the young opposition leader who has declared himself interim president.

Dressed in suits, scrubs, and jeans, they waved the national flag, displayed signs, and chanted slogans. One disgusted vendor threw devalued national currency into the air.

Protesters who made an appearance were heeding a call from opposition leader Juan Guaido to stage mass demonstrations despite crackdowns on previous protests.

Here are some scenes from across Caracas:

NO MORE DICTATORSHIP

Marching outside an office building on the eastern side of the city, Evelyn Melendez carried a red-and-white sign that read, "No more dictatorship," and sang songs opposing Maduro.

Melendez said she lives in a working-class neighborhood at the opposite end of the city, but she is too afraid to protest near her home, because in her neighborhood she has already been beaten up by government supporters for canvassing for an opposition party.

"Things are very tough here," said the 23-year-old Melendez, who wore a black T-shirt and baseball cap. "People are dying of hunger and over the lack of medicines. We hope that Maduro, the usurper, steps down from the presidency and stops causing harm to our people."

GASSED PENSIONERS

Leyda Brito turned up at one of Wednesday's protests wearing a red helmet with the number 647. It stands for the number of days that have passed since a group of pensioners was gassed by Venezuelan police during a protest in 2017.

Brito, 60, said she is struggling to live off her pension, which is roughly $10 a month. She said she was particularly frustrated by the Venezuelan government's refusal to accept international humanitarian aid.

"Maduro is a tyrant," Brito said. "We need a transition here and we need free elections."

WORTHLESS CASH

A woman who identified herself as Josefina arrived at one of the protest points in Caracas holding a thick wad of bolivar bills.

The notes were issued early last year by Venezuela's Central Bank but hyperinflation has rendered them worthless. Josefina, who lives in a hillside slum and works as a street vendor, threw the green bills up in the air in protest, as she screamed out chants against Maduro's government.

"This money is worth nothing," said Josefina, who declined to give her last name for fear of repercussions from the government.

"Our military needs to man up and take the peoples' side," she said, referring to the military's ongoing support of Maduro.

Josefina is hopeful that the economy will improve if Guaido becomes the country's president. "Maduro has no support in my neighborhood," she said.

WANTED: INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE

Construction company owner Pedro Cruz attended a walkout Wednesday with a half-dozen of his employees.

Carrying a large Venezuelan flag, Cruz said further repression of protests was likely in the upcoming days, but he is hopeful that the United States and more than two dozen other countries supporting Guaido will be able to put pressure on Maduro and force him to hold transparent elections.

"We have been under the occupation of Cuba for too long," Cruz said, referring to the country's close ties to the communist-run island. Cuba's late president Fidel Castro traded favors and sustained a long friendship with the late socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"But we have to be optimistic," Cruz added. "We have the support of many countries, and that could help us reach a solution."