Venezuelans march to remember at least 20 killed in recent unrest

CARACAS, Venezuela - Thousands of Venezuelans dressed in white, some walking with their hands up, marched Saturday in a silent protest in homage to the at least 20 people killed in unrest generated after the nation's Supreme Court stripped congress of its last powers, a decision it later reversed.

Walking with black bands tied around their arms and carrying signs denouncing President Nicolas Maduro, protesters in Caracas were heading toward the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, where they were expecting to pray for those killed in the violence.

Saturday's protest is the latest mass gathering in a wave of tumult that has rocked the nation over the last three weeks as demonstrators continue to press for new elections. Throughout the protests, state security forces have confronted protesters with tear gas, drawing international condemnation. Those killed include protesters and bystanders struck by gunfire and a dozen dead in overnight clashes and looting that destroyed more than two dozen businesses in a working class neighbourhood.

"We should remember there are people who were killed fighting for the cause we are defending," opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara told demonstrators walking through Caracas on Saturday. "And if they died for this we don't have the right to rest."

The opposition contends rogue armed pro-government groups are fomenting the violence. Government leaders claim the violence is being generated by right-wing opposition forces working with criminal gangs in an attempt to remove them from power.

"These are terrorist groups on a mission to sow hate and death," Diosdado Cabello, leader of the ruling socialist party, told supporters this week.

For the first time Saturday, protesters were able to cross from the east to the western side of Caracas without being confronted by state security, an act that Guevara compared in a Tweet to "crossing the Berlin wall" that divides one half from the other. Eastern Caracas is home to some of the city's wealthiest neighbourhoods while the western side has poorer communities.

Among the demonstrators gathered in Caracas was Andres Ramirez, a 34-year-old agricultural engineer, who marched with a giant cross draped in the Venezuelan flag.

"I am here carrying this cross for the peace of all Venezuelans," he said beneath a punishing sun. "We ask God to protect us in these moments of crisis and suffering."