Anti-fascist protesters vandalize buildings in Portland and Seattle

(Reuters) – Anti-government and anti-fascist protesters in Portland and Seattle vandalized a Democratic Party office and other buildings and scuffled with police on Wednesday, protesting against President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

People dressed in black and with their faces covered broke windows and the glass door at the Democratic Party of Oregon business office in Portland, spray-painting an anarchist symbol over the party sign, video posted on social media showed.

“We don’t want Biden. We want revenge for police murders, imperialist wars, and fascist massacres,” read a banner they marched under.

Portland has been the scene of unrest for months, with civil rights, anarchist and anti-fascist protesters scuffling with police and occasionally with right-wing militias and Trump supporters.

The protests began in the summer as part of nationwide demonstrations against racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis in May after police pinned his neck to the ground for nearly nine minutes.

Eight people were arrested in Portland on suspicion of offenses including rioting and reckless burning, while two people were arrested in Seattle, one for assault and another for property damage, police said.

Before descending on the Democratic Party office, some protesters from a group of about 150 scuffled with police on bicycles, police said in a statement.

In Seattle, police said multiple sites had been vandalized and posted pictures of the damage, including what appeared to be of an Amazon Go store.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Bhargav Acharya; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Frances Kerry)

Oath Keepers militia members accused of conspiracy for roles in U.S. Capitol siege

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Prosecutors on Tuesday accused three people affiliated with a far-right militia group with conspiring to breach the U.S. Capitol, the first time they have directly accused people of organizing the violent uprising that left five people dead.

Thomas Edward Caldwell, 65, of Clarke County, Virginia, whom investigators said has a leadership role in the Oath Keepers group, was named in a criminal complaint as having participated in the Capitol riots. His fellow members Jessica Watkins, 38, of Champaign County, Ohio, and Donovan Ray Crowl, also of Ohio, were also charged.

Caldwell, Watkins and Crowl are accused of conspiring against the United States and conspiring to prevent the government from discharging its duties, among other offenses.

Caldwell, who told a federal judge on Tuesday he is on disability after retiring from the U.S. Navy, said he looks forward to proving at trial that “every single charge is false.”

Jon Schaffer, a guitarist for the Indiana heavy metal band Iced Earth who was photographed during the riot wearing an Oath Keepers cap, also stands accused of using bear spray on police officers as the crowd tried to force its way past them, but was not named in the conspiracy.

Investigators said Caldwell used Facebook to communicate with fellow members of the Oath Keepers and helped make hotel arrangements for their stay in the Washington, D.C. area. He later posted photos from the siege, saying: “Us storming the castle. Please share… I am such an instigator!”

Watkins and Crowl appeared in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on Tuesday. Asked by a federal judge if she understood the charges against her, Watkins said: “I understand what you said. I don’t understand how I got them.”

A federal prosecutor told a judge in Caldwell’s case it was “likely” additional charges could be on the table, including rioting and seditious conspiracy.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York, and Brad Heath and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Iraqis rebuild wrecked protest camp as violence escalates

NASSIRIYA, Iraq (Reuters) – Anti-government protesters in the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya say they will not back down despite the destruction of their camp by gunmen in an attack that left at least two people dead.

Unidentified gunmen in four vehicles tore through the camp late on Sunday and set the protesters’ tents on fire, police and medical sources said. The incident came a day after security forces had made a violent nationwide attempt to close down such settlements.

The protesters said they now intended to make their camp more permanent and on Tuesday they began to clear the ruins and build new huts out of bricks and mortar that would provide better protection.

“After they burned our tents, we started building with bricks. And if they destroy the brick-built camp, we will use the bricks of our houses, I swear by God. We do all that for the sake of our motherland, Iraq,” said one protester, who declined to give his name.

Mass protests against corruption, economic decline and foreign political interference have rocked Iraq since October.

Nearly 500 people have been killed while demonstrating against the largely Iranian-backed ruling elite. After a lull this month, protests resumed in Baghdad and other cities, including Nassiriya, Basra and Najaf.

Nassiriya has been a major flashpoint with frequent violent clashes between protesters and security forces.

As they began to put their protest camp back together, volunteers turned al-Haboubi square in central Nassiriya into a construction site. A giant billboard overlooking the scene reads: “The fearful do not create freedom”.

“We will build with bricks, and if they destroy bricks, we will build with concrete. Iraqis won’t step back until they regain all rights,” another protester said.

(Reporting by Maher Nazeh; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Giles Elgood)

China suspends U.S. military visits to Hong Kong, sanctions U.S.-based NGOs

BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Monday U.S. military ships and aircraft won’t be allowed to visit Hong Kong, and also announced sanctions against several U.S. non-government organizations for encouraging protesters to “engage in extremist, violent and criminal acts.”

The measures were announced by China’s Foreign Ministry in response to U.S. legislation passed last week supporting anti-government protesters. It said it had suspended taking requests for U.S. military visits indefinitely, and warned of further action to come.

“We urge the U.S. to correct the mistakes and stop interfering in our internal affairs. China will take further steps if necessary to uphold Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity and China’s sovereignty,” said ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily news briefing in Beijing.

China last week promised it would issue “firm counter measures” after U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act,” which supports anti-government protesters in Hong Kong and threatens China with potential sanctions.

There are fears that the row over Hong Kong could impact efforts by Beijing and Washington to reach preliminary deal that could de-escalate a prolonged trade war between the two countries.

The U.S.-headquartered NGOs targeted by Beijing include the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute, Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House.

“They shoulder some responsibility for the chaos in Hong Kong and they should be sanctioned and pay the price,” said Hua.

In more normal times, several U.S. naval ships visit Hong Kong annually, a rest-and-recreation tradition that dates back to the pre-1997 colonial era which Beijing allowed to continue after the handover from British to Chinese rule.

Visits have at times been refused amid broader tensions and two U.S. ships were denied access in August.

The USS Blue Ridge, the command ship of the Japanese-based Seventh Fleet, stopped in Hong Kong in April – the last ship to visit before mass protests broke out in June.

Foreign NGOs are already heavily restricted in China, and have previously received sharp rebukes for reporting on rights issues in the country including the mass detention of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell and Beijing Monitoring Desk; Editing by Tom Hogue & Simon Cameron-Moore)

Hong Kong protesters clash with police, angry at lack of prosecutions after subway mob attack

Protesters fire nitrogen extinguishers during a stand off at Yuen Long MTR station, the scene of an attack by suspected triad gang members a month ago, in Yuen Long, New Territories, Hong Kong, China August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

By James Pomfret and Greg Torode

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Thousands of jeering Hong Kong residents held a raucous anti-government protest on Wednesday at a suburban subway station that was attacked by a mob last month, angry that nobody has yet been prosecuted for the violence.

Some masked protesters clashed with police in the sub-tropical heat, spraying fire extinguishers from the inside of Yuen Long station as others smeared the floor with cooking oil to stop the police advancing.

Some demonstrators blocked station exits and sealed roads outside the station, aiming green laser beams at the lines of shield-bearing officers. Others threw empty fire extinguishers at police lines from overpasses.

It was the latest in a series of demonstrations, which have sometimes turned violent, since June against a perceived erosion of freedoms in the Chinese-ruled former British colony.

Wednesday’s protest marked the night of July 21, when more than 100 white-shirted men stormed the Yuen Long station hours after protesters had marched through central Hong Kong and defaced China’s Liaison Office – the main symbol of Beijing’s authority.

Using pipes and clubs, the men attacked black-clad protesters returning from Hong Kong island as well as passers-by, journalists and a lawmaker, wounding 45 people.

Democratic Party legislator Lam Cheuk-ting, who was wounded in the attack by suspected triad gangsters, said he believed the protesters wanted a peaceful night on Wednesday but he could not rule out further violence – from gangsters or the police.

“It is impossible to predict… It is deeply disappointing that all these weeks later we still don’t have an independent inquiry into those events,” he told Reuters.

Squads of police were stationed on the station perimeter and some protesters jeered and shone lasers at them. A small crowd of masked young men gathered on a station balcony, swearing and cursing at police vans down a side street.

Anger erupted in June over a now-suspended bill that would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China for trial. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said again on Tuesday the legislation was dead.

The unrest has been fueled by broader worries about the erosion of freedoms guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula adopted after Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997, including an independent judiciary and the right to protest. Demonstrations have included the storming of the legislature and havoc at the airport.


At a speakers’ corner beneath the MTR station on Wednesday, people denounced police violence and their perceived desertion of duty on July 21.

“They just walked away,” one woman said. “What kind of police are these?”

Peter, a 17-year-old student handing out free drinks and masks, said he wanted the night to be peaceful.

“We need to give the frontline fighters a rest from fighting the police, so they can fight again later if we need,” he said.

The protests have prompted sharp reactions from Beijing, which has accused foreign countries, including the United States, of fomenting unrest. China has also sent clear warning that forceful intervention is possible, with paramilitary forces holding drills in neighboring Shenzhen.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated Washington’s calls for China to honor its commitment to “one country, two systems”.

Speaking to CBS program “This Morning” on Tuesday, Pompeo highlighted remarks by President Donald Trump at the weekend warning against a crackdown like Beijing’s suppression of pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Trump said this would make reaching a deal he has been seeking to end a trade war with China “very hard”.

In an editorial on Tuesday, China’s influential state-run tabloid, the Global Times, called Monday’s comments by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence linking the trade talks to the Hong Kong protests “outrageous”.

Likely worsening already strained ties between Beijing and London, a Chinese national working at Britain’s Hong Kong consulate has been detained in China’s border city of Shenzhen for violating the law.

Some Hong Kong companies have been dragged into controversy amid the protests.

Pilots and cabin crew at Cathay Pacific Airways described a “white terror” of political denunciations, sackings and phone searches by Chinese aviation officials.

The Hong Kong Pharmacists’ Union said it was concerned about the spread of toxic chemicals from the tear gas used by police in some of the protests.

“We would suggest the protective measures and decontamination actions to be taken after the release of tear gas in your community and the mass transit system,” it said in a statement.

Police responded by reading out from Wikipedia that tear gas does not harm humans.

(Additional reporting by Felix Tam; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Hong Kong protesters disrupt train services, cause commuter chaos

Anti-extradition bill demonstrators block a Mass Transit Railway (MTR) train in Hong Kong, China July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By Vimvam Tong and Felix Tam

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hundreds of Hong Kong protesters blocked train services during the morning rush hour on Tuesday, causing commuter chaos in the latest anti-government campaign to roil the former British colony.

What started three months ago as rallies against an extradition bill that would have allowed people in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China for trial, has evolved into a wider backlash against the city’s government and its political masters in Beijing.

Protests have occurred almost daily, sometimes with little notice, disrupting business, piling pressure on the city’s beleaguered government and stretching its police force, which some have accused of using excessive force.

Activists blocked train doors, playing havoc with services and forcing hundreds of people to stream out of railway stations in search of alternative transport.

“We don’t know how long we are going to stay here, we don’t have a leader, as you can see this is a mass movement now,” said Sharon, a 21-year-old masked protester who declined to give her full name.

“It’s not our intention to inconvenience people, but we have to make the authorities understand why we protest. We will continue with this as long as needed.”

Others chanted, “Liberate Hong Kong,” and “Revolution of our time”.

By mid-morning, commuters were crammed into stations across the city, waiting to board trains that were badly delayed, with no service on some lines.

Rail operator MTR Corp urged people to seek other transport.

Transport Secretary Frank Chan called on protesters to stop targeting a rail network that provides transport to five million people a day, public broadcaster RTHK reported.

Hong Kong, which returned to China in 1997, is embroiled in its worst political crisis for decades after two months of increasingly violent protests that have posed one of the gravest populist challenges to Communist Party rulers in Beijing.


China on Monday reiterated its support for Hong Kong’s embattled leader, Carrie Lam, and its police and urged Hong Kong people to oppose violence.

Lam’s popularity has dropped to a record low, according to a survey by the independent Public Opinion Research Institute released on Tuesday.

The survey, conducted between July 17 and July 19, showed Lam scored a rating of 30.1, down from 33.4 at the beginning of the month. Her approval rate stands at 21%, while her disapproval rate is 70%.

Over the last few years, many people in Hong Kong have become concerned about the whittling away of the city’s freedoms, guaranteed under a “one country, two systems” formula established when it returned to China in 1997.

China denies interfering and has warned that the protests are an “undisguised challenge” to the formula under which the city is ruled, and risked damaging its economy.

The mass transit protest follows a demonstration at the Chinese-ruled city’s international airport on Friday and violent protests at the weekend when activists clashed with police who fired rubber bullets, tear gas and sponge grenades – a crowd-control weapon.

Some scuffles broke out between commuters and protesters, who gradually began to disperse, while more police were deployed in stations, where they stopped protesters to search their bags.

Commuters grew increasingly frustrated over the disruption, and shops, including bakeries and convenience stores, had also begun to close.

“It’s so inconvenient and annoying, really. I am in a hurry to work, to make a living. Will you give away your salary to me?” said a 64-year-old man surnamed Liu.

Others were more supportive, refusing to blame the protesters.

“This non-cooperation movement is caused by Carrie Lam. She doesn’t cooperate with the people of Hong Kong or respond to their demands,” Jason Lo, 31, told Reuters as he waited for a train.

(Reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee, Vimvam Tong and Felix Tam; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree and Farah Master; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Robert Birsel)

Man arrested in plot to bomb Oklahoma bank

Jerry Drake Varnell, is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters August 14, 2017. Oklahoma Department of Corrections/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – An Oklahoma man was arrested after what he thought was an attempt over the weekend to bomb an Oklahoma City bank building as part of an anti-government plot, U.S. prosecutors said on Monday.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Jerry Drake Varnell, 23, on Saturday after an undercover agent posed as a co-conspirator and agreed to help him build what he believed was a 1,000-pound (454 kg) explosive.

Varnell had initially planned to bomb the U.S. Federal Reserve in Washington in a manner similar to the 1995 explosion at a federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people, according to a complaint.

FBI agents arrested Varnell after he went as far as making a call early on Saturday morning to a mobile phone he believed would detonate a device in a van parked next to a BancFirst Corp building in downtown Oklahoma City, the complaint said.

“This arrest is the culmination of a long-term domestic terrorism investigation involving an undercover operation, during which Varnell had been monitored closely for months as the alleged bomb plot developed,” federal prosecutors said in a statement. “The device was actually inert, and the public was not in danger.”

Varnell, of Sayre, Oklahoma, was charged with malicious attempted destruction of a building in interstate commerce. He is expected to make his first court appearance in federal court in Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon.


(Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Von Ahn)


Venezuela opposition challenges Maduro with unofficial referendum

Venezuelan opposition leader and Governor of Miranda state Henrique Capriles attends a meeting of the Venezuelan coalition of opposition parties (MUD) in Caracas, Venezuela July 3, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Diego Oré and Eyanir Chinea

CARACAS (Reuters) – President Nicolas Maduro’s foes announced plans on Monday for an unofficial referendum to let Venezuelans have their say on his plan to rewrite the constitution and the opposition’s alternative push for an election to replace him.

The opposition, starting a fourth month of street protests against the socialist government it decries as a dictatorship, will organize the symbolic vote for July 16 as part of its strategy to delegitimize the unpopular Maduro.

Venezuelans will also be asked their view on the military’s responsibility for “recovering constitutional order” and the formation of a new “national unity” government, the Democratic Unity coalition announced.

“Let the people decide!” said Julio Borges, the president of the opposition-led National Assembly, confirming what two senior opposition sources told Reuters earlier on Monday.

The opposition’s planned vote, likely to be dismissed by the government, would be two weeks ahead of a planned July 30 vote proposed by Maduro for a Constituent Assembly with powers to reform the constitution and supersede other institutions.

“The government is trying to formalize dictatorship,” said opposition leader Henrique Capriles, warning the South American OPEC nation was approaching “zero hour”.

According to a recent survey by pollster Datanalisis, seven in 10 Venezuelans are opposed to rewriting the constitution, which was reformed by late leader Hugo Chavez in 1999.

Maduro, 54, Chavez’s unpopular successor, says the assembly is the only way to bring peace to Venezuela after the deaths of at least 84 people in and around anti-government unrest since the start of April.

“The people have a right to vote and the people will vote on July 30, rain or shine!” Maduro said to cheers during a speech at an open-air event on Monday with candidates to the new assembly, during which he also prayed and danced.

Opponents say Maduro’s plan is a ruse to consolidate the ruling Socialist Party’s grip on power and avoid a conventional free election that opinion polls show he would lose.

Critics also accuse the government of threatening people with layoffs or loss of state-provided homes if they do not vote. Maduro on Monday urged state workers to participate, saying for instance that every single employee of state oil company PDVSA should cast a ballot.


The next presidential vote is due by the end of 2018, but protesters have been demanding it be brought forward, even as Maduro’s opponents worry about how free and fair such a vote would be.

The two highest-profile potential opposition candidates for a presidential election are Capriles, who has been barred from holding office, and Leopoldo Lopez, who is in jail.

Opposition protesters also want solutions to a crushing economic crisis, freedom for hundreds of jailed activists, and independence for the National Assembly.

Maduro, a former foreign minister who was narrowly elected in 2013 after Chavez’s death from cancer, says protesting opponents are seeking a coup with U.S. support.

His allies say that a new Constituent Assembly would annul the existing legislature and would also remove chief state prosecutor Luisa Ortega, who has split with the socialists during the crisis and become a thorn in their side.

Officials have turned on Ortega and are petitioning the Supreme Court to remove her. On Monday, the comptroller’s office announced a national audit of state prosecutors’ offices.

Ortega’s office described it as “revenge for the current institutional crisis” and accused comptroller officials of “abuses” in trying to enter buildings without prior notice.

“The darkness does not last forever nor does it extend in its totality,” Ortega said in an address to the National Assembly. “We must make big efforts to reactivate the institutional and electoral paths.”

(Additional reporting by Alexandra Ulmer and Andreina Aponte; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne and Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Frances Kerry and Mary Milliken)

U.N. urges Venezuela’s Maduro to uphold rule of law

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a gathering in support of him and his proposal for the National Constituent Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela June 27, 2017. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations on Friday criticized President Nicolas Maduro’s government for curtailing the powers of the chief state prosecutor and called on it to uphold the rule of law and freedom of assembly in Venezuela amid a clampdown on protesters.

Critics of Maduro have taken to the streets almost daily for three months to protest against what they call the creation of a dictatorship. The protests, which have left nearly 80 dead, frequently culminate in violent clashes with security forces.

Ruling Socialist Party officials have launched a series of attacks against chief state prosecutor Luisa Ortega, from accusations of insanity to promoting violence, after her high-profile break with the government.

“The decision by the Venezuelan Supreme Court on 28 June to begin removal proceedings against the Attorney General, freeze her assets and ban her from leaving the country is deeply worrying, as is the ongoing violence in the country,” U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a Geneva briefing.

The Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber has nullified Ortega’s appointment of a deputy attorney general, naming someone else in violation of the law, he said. It also transferred some of her functions to the ombudsperson.

“Since March, the Attorney General has taken important steps to defend human rights, documenting deaths during the wave of demonstrations, insisting on the need for due process and the importance of the separation of powers, and calling for people who have been arbitrarily detained to be immediately released,” Colville said.

The U.N. human rights office was concerned the Supreme Court’s decision “appears to seek to strip her office of its mandate and responsibilities as enshrined in the Venezuelan Constitution, and undermine the office’s independence”.

“We urge all powers of the Venezuelan state to respect the constitution and the rule of law, and call on the government to ensure the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of opinion and expression are guaranteed,” Colville said.

Maduro says the demonstrations are an attempt to overthrow him with the support of Washington.

The United Nations has received increasing reports that security forces have “raided residential buildings, conducted searches without warrants and detained people, allegedly with the intention of deterring people from participating in the demonstrations and searching for opposition supporters,” Colville said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Heroes or agitators? Young lawmakers on Venezuela’s front line

FILE PHOTO: (L-R) Deputies of the opposition parties Carlos Paparoni, Jose Manuel Olivares and Juan Andres Mejias shout slogans during a march to state Ombudsman's office in Caracas, Venezuela May 29, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo

By Andrew Cawthorne and Victoria Ramirez

CARACAS (Reuters) – One was knocked off his feet by a water cannon. Another was pushed into a drain. Most have been pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed, beaten and hit by pellet shots.

A group of young Venezuelan lawmakers has risen to prominence on the violent front line of anti-government marches that have shaken the South American country for three months, bringing 75 deaths.

On the streets daily leading demonstrators, pushing at security barricades and sometimes picking up teargas canisters to hurl back at police and soldiers, the energetic National Assembly members are heroes to many opposition supporters.

But to President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government, they are the chief “terrorists” in a U.S.-backed coup plot aimed at controlling the vast oil wealth of the OPEC nation.

The dozen or so legislators, all in their late 20s or early 30s, belong mainly to the Justice First and Popular Will parties, which are promoting civil disobedience against a president they term a dictator.

They march largely without protective gear – unlike the masked and shield-bearing youths around them – though supporters and aides sometimes form circles to guard them.

They do not receive salaries since funds to the National Assembly were squeezed, living instead off gifts from relatives and friends. And some still reside at home with parents.

One of the best known, Juan Requesens, 28, has taken more hits than most. He nurses a scar in the head from a stick thrown by government supporters, wounds around his body from pellets and gas cannisters and bruises from being shoved into a deep drain by National Guard soldiers.

“The worst thing for me is when comrades die, when they fall at my side,” the burly, bearded Requesens told Reuters, saying he had been near nine fatalities since April.

Protesters have been demanding a presidential vote and solutions to hunger and medical shortages. The deaths have included not only demonstrators, but also Maduro supporters, bystanders and members of the security forces.

There have been thousands of injuries too, and nearly 1,500 people remain behind bars, according to local rights groups, after roundups around the country.

Requesens, who represents western Tachira State where there is radical opposition to Maduro, freely admits his role as an “agitator” for the opposition. But despite his tough image, he obeyed his mother’s order to stay at home after the head injury.

“For four days, she wouldn’t let me go out – but it was fine because I rested and recovered quicker, then back again of course,” he said.

Some have dubbed the band of lawmakers “the class of 2007” for their roots in a student movement a decade ago that helped the opposition to a rare victory against Maduro’s popular predecessor Hugo Chavez in a referendum.

“It’s a group born in the street during the 2007 protests. We’re meeting up again 10 years later doing the same,” said Harvard-educated Juan Mejia, 31.


Mejia, lawmaker for Miranda State, which includes part of the capital Caracas, has lost one friend in a protest and another in an accident on the way to a march.

“For us, this is an existential struggle,” he added, saying his generation grew up under socialist rule and was fed up with economic hardship, crime and political repression.

“I’m 31 and I’d like to live off my work, but I can’t … I don’t want to depend on my parents all my life,” he added in a hotel where opposition politicians were strategizing during a brief lull in their daily street activities.

Officials accuse the lawmakers of paying youths and even children as young as 12 to attack security forces, block roads and burn property. They have threatened to jail them.

State airlines refuse to sell them tickets, and private carriers are under pressure to do the same, meaning they cannot fly around the country, the lawmakers say. Some have also had passports confiscated or annulled, blocking foreign travel.

In a typical recent speech, Maduro blasted Freddy Guevara, a 31-year-old lawmaker who leads the Popular Will party in the absence of its jailed leader Leopoldo Lopez, as “Chucky” in reference to a murderous doll in a horror film.

He also singled out Miguel Pizarro, 29, a drum-playing lawmaker with the Justice First party who recently wept at a news conference minutes after a 17-year-old was shot dead close to him during a protest in Caracas.

“He puts on that dumb face and behind it, he’s ordering them to kill and burn,” Maduro said. “Pizarro, you’re listening to me; you’ll carry this with you all your life.”

The lawmakers scoff at that, saying they now carry the nation’s dreams for change while an ever-more desperate Maduro is clinging to power against the majority’s will.

Their mantra is peaceful protest, and indeed when marches have not been blocked – such as to a state TV office and the Catholic Church headquarters – there has been no trouble.

But some admit to tossing back gas cannisters or throwing the odd stone, and there has been criticism the legislators have not done enough to restrain violence within opposition ranks, from burning property to lynching someone.

Jose Manuel Olivares, a 31-year-old lawmaker for coastal Vargas State, is a doctor and says his profession makes it all the more important to avoid violence. He recently required 12 stitches after being hit in the head by a tear gas cannister, and has often given first aid during clashes in the streets.

Yet he defends protesters’ rights to “self-defense” and admits to wearing gloves to pick up gas cannisters.

“If I’m surrounded by old people, adults or even my family, and teargas falls nears us, it’s legitimate defense to throw it back. Stones? Yes. But stones against bullets … The battle is disproportional,” he said.

“I’m not saying we’re martyrs … but we’re trying to give the best example we can, fighting for the country, saying ‘Here I am, taking risks just like you and you’.”

(Additional reporting by Andreina Aponte; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Cynthia Osterman)