Thousands of Venezuelans take to streets in politically charged protests

Thousands of Venezuelan's have taken to the streets across the South American nation venting their anger over a nationwide blackout, shortages of basic items and the refusal of President Nicolas Maduro to leave office.

Counter protests, in support of Maduro, have also taken place in the country with presidential supporters demanding the US cease its "brutal aggression" against the troubled state.

The marches lay bare the ever-growing gulf in the country, once thought to be a poster child of a socialist state but now paralysed by economic and political turmoil.

A woman confronts members of the armed forces during the protest. Credit: AP

Anti-government protesters have been galvanised by large-scale power outages, believed the be the largest to hit South America on record. Earlier this week, much of the state was plunged into darkness. Only a few lights remained on in buildings in the capital, Caracas.

Although it was initially thought the issues had been resolved, tensions were heightened by a new power shutdown. The outage has affected the majority of Venezuela's communication infrastructure.

Thousands of people join the march against the government of President Nicolas Maduro. Credit: Fernando Llano/AP

Jorge Jaimes, a doctor who joined opposition protesters on Avenida Victoria in Caracas, said: "This is chaos. We are at the end of this road."

Opposition demonstrators earlier on Saturday pushed against the shields of riot police, who later withdrew from the area but maintained a large presence.

Elsewhere in the city, protesters said lines of police blocked them from reaching the rally organised by opposition leader Juan Guaido, creating a sense of confusion as power and communications outages plagued the country.

Juan Guaido has led protesters in Venezuela's capital. Credit: Fernando Llano/AP

Managers of the Caracas subway said they are still waiting for the electricity supply to stabilise before resuming services.

As the opposition-led rally got under way, police units and members of the National Guard were deployed at several intersections, wearing helmets and carrying shields and other anti-riot gear. Several columns of security forces moved on motorcycles.

Opposition activists said police had dismantled a speakers’ stage that had been erected in the street ahead of the demonstration on Saturday, while Mr Guaido tweeted authorities would fail in any attempt to scare protesters.

"Today we’ll show them in the streets," he said.

Juan Guaido has declared himself the country’s interim president. Credit: Fernando Llano/AP

Meanwhile, demonstrators at the pro-Maduro rally danced and waved flags on what organisers labelled a "day of anti-imperialism" in a show of defiance towards the United States, which has imposed oil sanctions on Venezuela in an attempt to oust the president.

Many showed up wearing red caps and shirts in support of the self-proclaimed "socialist revolution" of leader Hugo Chavez, who died six years ago and was succeeded by his protege, Mr Maduro.

Mr Maduro, who maintains Mr Guaido is part of a US-backed plot to oust him, tweeted on Saturday that "each act of imperialist aggression will meet an overwhelming response."

In the last two days, Venezuelan government officials have blamed the United States for the nationwide blackout and said Mr Guaido collaborated in the alleged sabotage.

Mr Guaido and US officials scoff at that notion, attributing the blackout to alleged corruption and mismanagement under Mr Maduro’s government.