Venezuelans stood in long lines outside the few open food stores Wednesday after two days of rioting that left scores of people dead. The government told people to resign themselves to a new way of life.
The nation woke up under martial law, imposed late Tuesday by President Carlos Andres Perez after the country's worst violence in 31 years of democratic rule.Perez also imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew, which government spokesman Pastor Heydra said would last until peace had been restored to the country.
Citizens were prohibited from gathering in public places or protesting publicly. Rights to privacy and freedom of the press were suspended, and the military was given the right to detain anyone on sight.
"I think Venezuelans should take this time to reflect on the fact that Venezuela is a different country now, and we have to learn different consumption habits and behavior habits," said Heydra.
Reports from authorities and independent sources indicated the death toll had surpassed 100 in violence touched off by protests over price increases imposed to meet the demands of international creditors.
The El Nacional newspaper said Wednesday 80 people died in Caracas.
At least 800 people were injured in what Perez termed an "incredible tragedy." At least eight cities were placed under military control.
Authorities said thousands of people had been arrested.
Perez, in office since Feb. 2, said in a television address Tuesday night the riots were threatening the democratic process. Even as he spoke, gunfire was heard in the streets and rioting and looting continued in this capital of 4 million.
In the eastern shantytown of Petare, 17 people were killed in battles between police and rioters. Victims were carried down from the hills to be taken to hospitals while crowds watched, witnesses said.
Later Tuesday, the army moved into Petare and the hills of January 23, a lower-income neighborhood on the west side of Caracas, to take on snipers. Authorities said army units completed their search before dawn but did not elaborate.
Residents of the Palo Verde and La Urbina areas, both near Petare, said they experienced "hours of terror" as pistol-armed mobs came down the hills by the hundreds, sacked grocery stores and a Portuguese restaurant, burning its furniture on the street before the army intervened.
"I saw angry mobs shout at an army unit of approximately 200, `We prefer to be killed by bullets than to die from starvation.' Then shots started and I saw three fall dead. People covered the corpses with blankets," said Jose Nunez del Prado, who lives in Palo Verde.