In spite of the long weekend heading into three days of Carnaval, student-led demonstrations have so far maintained a street presence, not just in the capital, but also in cities including Valencia, Merida and San Cristobal.
    
In that context, President Nicolas Maduro forged ahead with a new round of televised peace meetings on Saturday. He announced his intention to establish similar conferences in all states. Absent were members of the opposition, who refuse to open a dialogue until Maduro releases protesters from jail and stops harsh crackdowns on protests.
    
"I believe the country would win if we see each other face to face and talk," Maduro said. He also announced that national guardsman Giovanny Jose Hernandez Pantoja died Friday after being shot in the eye while he and others removed debris from a street in Valencia.
    
But that appears unlikely to happen with one opposition leader in jail and an arrest order out for another. About two weeks of student-led protests mostly in middle-class neighborhoods have left 18 dead. Venezuelans face inflation that hit 56 percent last year, scarcity of basic necessities and runaway violent crime.
    
At a human rights demonstration in a well-off part of east Caracas, several hundred protesters waved Venezuelan flags and held signs with the photos of those killed during demonstrations. "There's not going to be peace until there's justice," said 32-year-old hairdresser Amanda Valero.
    
Later last night, violence erupted and dozens of protesters threw rocks and molotov cocktails against National Guard members who fired rubber bullets and water cannons.
    
State television reported that 41 people had been detained. But in the massive slum of Petare life marched on normally with hundreds of street vendors pushing their wares at its central circle.
    
"The people of Petare are warriors, the people of Petare don't stop for anything," said Yuly Chacon, a 27-year-old teacher. "Those (protests) are the things of the wealthy areas."

(Agencies)

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