Venezuela crisis: Maduro threatens seizure of closed factories

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Opposition protesters are pushing for a recall vote to remove Nicolas Maduro from power

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has threatened the seizure of factories that have stopped production, and the jailing of their owners.

In a speech to supporters in the capital Caracas, he said the country had to recover the means of production, to counter its deep economic crisis.

On Friday, he introduced a new, nationwide state of emergency.

Opposition protesters have been rallying in Caracas to push for a recall vote to eject him from power.

Mr Maduro said the state of emergency was needed to combat foreign aggression, which he blamed for Venezuela's problems.

And he said military exercises would take place next weekend to counter "foreign threats".

Image source, AP
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An opposition protester shows a mock empty refrigerator to protest against shortages

Venezuela has the world's largest oil reserves but its economy has been severely hit by falling global oil prices. Its economy contracted by 5.7% last year and its official inflation rate is estimated to be topping 180%.

There are severe shortages of food, medicines and basic goods which Mr Maduro argues are due to business leaders and the US waging an economic war against his government.

Feeling the strain: Analysis by Daniel Pardo, BBC Venezuela correspondent, Caracas

Image source, Reuters
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Queues outside shops are now a common sight

The economic crisis that started three years ago has deepened this year, to the point that it has affected immensely the day-to-day life of every Venezuelan.

On top of having to queue for hours every week to be able to buy the basic products, now Venezuelans have to cope with energy and water rationing almost daily.

This, in a country that used to be one of the most developed nations in Latin America, with the highest consumption rates in the region.

Venezuelans have lost interest in Mr Maduro's moves because of the economic crisis. The latest, like the state of emergency decree or the occupation of certain plants, are in fact already happening and have changed little for Venezuelans' daily lives.

'All measures'

The threat to seize closed factories came after Venezuela's largest food and beverage company, the Polar Group, halted production of beer, blaming government mismanagement for stopping it importing barley.

The group's billionaire owner, Lorenzo Mendoza, is a fierce critic of President Maduro.

"We must take all measures to recover productive capacity, which is being paralysed by the bourgeoisie," Mr Maduro told a rally in Caracas.

"Anyone who wants to halt [production] to sabotage the country should get out, and those who do must be handcuffed and sent to the PGV [Venezuelan General Penitentiary]," he said.

"We're going to tell imperialism and the international right that the people are present, with their farm instruments in one hand and a gun in the other... to defend this sacred land," he added.

Image source, AFP
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Many at the pro-government rally expressed their support for Mr Maduro's policies
Image source, AFP
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At the government rally, people wore images of the late Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez.

On Friday he declared a full-blown state of emergency, expanding the state of "economic emergency" he had announced in January.

In an address to the nation, he said the measures would be in place for three months but would likely be extended over 2017.

He did not specify if there would be limits to other constitutional rights but he said the decree would provide "a fuller, more comprehensive protection for our people."

A previous state of emergency was implemented in states near the Colombian border last year.

It suspended constitutional guarantees in those areas but did not suspend guarantees related to human rights.

The Venezuelan Minister for Communication and Information, Luis Jose Marcano, said the state of emergency would allow the government more resources to distribute food, basic goods and medicines.

But he added that it also created "mechanisms for the security forces to be able to guarantee public order needed because of the threats by armed groups".

'Time bomb'

The opposition has collected and submitted a petition with 1.8 million signatures in favour of a referendum on Mr Maduro, but the National Electoral Board (CNE) has so far not verified them.

The verification process was supposed to take five days but 12 days have already elapsed.

Image source, AP
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Demonstrators chanted slogans against President Maduro
Image source, Reuters
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Opposition supporters held placards designed to put pressure on the Electoral Council which read (L-R) "Deaf", "Blind" and "Dumb". "CNE".

Opposition activists say authorities are not letting them proceed to the next stage when they must collect another four million signatures.

Addressing the crowds on Saturday, opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said: "We want a country without queues, where we can find medicines. We want change."

He described Venezuela as a "time bomb that can explode at any given moment".

According to the Venezuelan Constitution, if a referendum is held before the end of the year, a recall vote against Mr Maduro would trigger new elections.

Opposition protester Marisol Dos Santos said there would be "a social explosion" if Mr Maduro did not let the recall referendum happen.