Many Venezuelans went to the beach to enjoy the Carnival holiday, while thousands of anti-government demonstrators marched in the capital.

They are trying to keep up the momentum from weeks of protests demanding President Nicolas Maduro resign.            

There are no signs that Mr Maduro, who says the protests are part of a US-backed coup plot, could be ousted in a Ukraine-style overthrow.

This is despite widespread discontent with soaring inflation and chronic product shortages.

Government leaders have urged Venezuelans to skip the protests and make their traditional trips to the beach during the Carnival holiday.

State television was filled with images of packed beaches and smiling holiday makers.
Opposition marchers that ranged from students to middle-aged professionals and senior citizens filled a square in the east of Caracas.

The rallies centre on problems including 56% annual inflation and one of the world's highest murder rates.

"We have nothing to celebrate at the beach," said Carlos Torres, 34, an engineer. "Going on vacation would give credence to the government's version that there's nothing going on."

The unrest evolved from sporadic regional protests into a nationwide movement after three people were shot dead following a march.

At least 17 people have been killed in the South American nation's most violent unrest in a decade.

Mr Maduro sought to take the steam out of the protests by extending the usual four-day Carnival holiday by two days.

Opposition moderates question the demonstrator's tactics of blocking streets, setting up barricades and exchanging volleys of rocks with police and security forces.

They say this may backfire and boost support for Mr Maduro.

Violent street protests helped briefly drive late socialist leader Hugo Chavez from power in a 2002 coup.

The opposition repeatedly staged street protests later that year as well as in 2004, but they fizzled out as protesters grew weary of blocked streets and barricades made from smouldering rubbish.