CARACAS, Venezuela – Elderly Venezuelans frustrated with medical shortages and the flight of grandchildren from their troubled South American country joined anti-government street protests demanding elections Friday.

Lines of police officers blocked thousands of protesters from advancing in the capital city of Caracas. White-haired demonstrators with raspy voices berated officers for not letting them through.

“Respect the elderly!” one yelled at the young officers standing shoulder-to-shoulder with plastic shields.

The protest organized by the country’s opposition coalition was billed as the “March of the Grandparents” and comes on the heels of six weeks of demonstrations against the embattled government of President Nicolas Maduro. Many of the elderly marchers said it made them angry to see a once prosperous nation devolve into a country with triple-digit inflation, shortages of basic necessities like food and medicine and one of the world’s highest homicide rates.

A report released by the Ministry of Health this week underlined Venezuela’s deteriorating public health. According to the study, 756 women died while pregnant or shortly after giving birth in 2016, a 66 percent increase over the previous year. The deaths were caused by hemorrhages, high blood pressure and infections. Cases of infant mortality rose 30 percent.

Health workers have been warning about rises in infant and maternal deaths, but the data were the first official statistics to be released publicly since 2012.

Vice President Tareck El Aissami announced late Thursday that Health Minister Antonieta Caprole was being replaced by Luis Lopez, previously secretary of health in the state of Aragua.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.