Police dispersed opponents of President Hugo Chavez's government on Saturday as thousands demonstrated both for and against an education law that critics fear will lead to political indoctrination in schools.
Officers fired tear gas, a water cannon and rubber bullets to scatter opposition marchers as they tried to break through a police barrier. Protesters including Miguel Rivero, a 43-year-old lawyer, said they requested but did not receive permission to march to the National Assembly.
"It's totally unjust," Rivero said, wiping tear gas from his eyes. "This repression is totally unnecessary."
Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami accused the protesters of "inciting violence" by throwing rocks and other objects at police.
Health authorities said they treated dozens of people for tear gas inhalation and at least 14 who were hit by rubber bullets or displayed other minor injuries. Interior Vice Minister Juan Francisco Romero said at least a dozen police were mildly injured.
'The Bolivarian Doctrine'
The law approved by the largely pro-Chavez National Assembly last week orders schools to base curricula on "the Bolivarian Doctrine" — a reference to ideals espoused by 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar, such as national self-determination and Latin American unity.
Critics are quick to note that Chavez uses the term "Bolivarian" to describe his political movement, and some believe his socialist government intends to win over hearts and minds through classroom indoctrination.
Chavez says the law is necessary to change Venezuela's "bourgeois" educational system.
"This is political, nothing more," said Nancy Gonzalez, a 54-year-old retired education professor, adding that the law's vague language leaves many articles open to interpretation.
Pro-government legislators deny the law aims at political indoctrination.
Government supporter Adriana Lombardi — one of thousands who marched peacefully across town in favor of the measure — said she believes the law will mean her 3-year-old son will gain an improved understanding of Venezuelan history.
"This is our identity, where we come from," she said. "It's important, it's fundamental."