Venezuela anti-government march demands election date

Caracas (AFP) - Marchers hit the Caracas streets Saturday to demand elections and the release of jailed Venezuelan opposition activists including figurehead Leopoldo Lopez, who has been on hunger strike since May 24.

The crowd of about 500 was called out by Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori, for a march that ended in Jose Marti square in the capital.

"If you want Leopoldo to stop his hunger strike, set a date for the elections," Tintori told the crowd, in remarks aimed at socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

Venezuela is due to hold midterm elections in 2015, but no date has been set. Maduro has insisted the vote will go ahead as it is required.

His party has its primary on June 28.

Critics charge that he is trying to delay until the last possible minute to undercut the opposition.

Lopez, who leads the Voluntad Popular (Will of the People) party, went on his hunger strike demanding that the election date be set and that international monitors be in place.

Lopez, 44, has been held at a military prison outside Caracas since he was arrested in February 2014 on charges of inciting the violence that killed 43 people and wounded hundreds as Venezuelans protested against Maduro's government last year.

Maduro has rejected criticism of his hardline approach towards his opponents and blamed the country's deteriorating economy on the United States.

The OPEC member's economy is reeling from a collapse in crude oil prices, soaring inflation, a shortfall of hard currency and chronic shortages of basic goods.

Venezuela is also the world's second deadliest country in the world, according to UN data.