Venezuela crisis: Opposition condemns Maduro move

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Media caption,

Venezuela protesters block city streets of Caracas

Opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro have set up roadblocks and staged demonstrations demanding elections as the country's political and economic crisis deepens.

They responded with defiance to his call for a new constitution to end unrest that has killed 28 people.

Mr Maduro said his move was necessary to fend off a foreign-backed plot against him.

The US said it was a bid to cling to power, while Brazil called it a "coup".

The president's opponents want to hold a vote to remove him, blaming the left-wing president for food shortages that have led to rioting.

Mr Maduro has rejected their calls and issued a presidential decree creating a 500-member "constituent assembly" to rewrite the constitution, a step that would bypass the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

He announced the step to thousands of his supporters at a May Day rally on Monday.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Opposition leaders have called for a "mega-protest" on Wednesday

"This constituent assembly that Maduro has announced is a manipulation to escape elections," AFP news agency quoted student Raul Hernandez, 22, as saying. He was among about 100 people blocking a major road in the capital Caracas.

Elsewhere, security forces deployed tear gas and water cannon at anti-government demonstrators.

Opposition leaders have called for a "mega protest" on Wednesday.

"People, into the streets!" opposition leader Henrique Capriles said on Twitter. "You must disobey such lunacy!"

There has been widespread international criticism of the move.

The head of the Washington-based Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, called it wrongheaded, unconstitutional and fraudulent.

The US state department spokesman Michael Fitzpatrick told reporters: "We have deep concerns about the motivation for this constituent assembly which overrides the will of the Venezuelan people and further erodes Venezuelan democracy.

"What President Maduro is trying to do yet again is change the rules of the game."

Brazilian Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes called the move a "coup".

"It's another step in breaking the democratic order, which contradicts the country's own constitution," he said.

In Venezuela itself, in the opposition-controlled National Assembly, lawmakers voted to reject the new body with many saying President Maduro was attempting to sideline the legislature and avoid new elections.

Nowhere else to go: Analysis by Candace Piette, BBC Latin America analyst

The Venezuelan opposition have nowhere else to go but the streets and have vowed to keep up their latest month-long campaign of demonstrations across the country.

All their efforts to get an election called early have been frustrated by a Supreme Court and a National Electoral Council dominated by government supporters. Any legislation presented by Venezuela's National Assembly, which they dominate, is blocked by the judges.

Opposition leaders say Mr Maduro's constituent assembly is an attempt to sideline a democratically elected National Assembly even further. According to constitutional law, the new constituent body could overrule the executive, legislature and the judiciary.

Mr Maduro has said he wants at least half its members to come from his traditional powerbase - the poor, working classes and other civic associations. He says it will hand back power to the people and bring peace to Venezuela.

It seems to have done precisely the opposite.

Mr Maduro was elected in 2013 to succeed the late Hugo Chavez, a popular figure who introduced wide-ranging social welfare programmes.

But since then, falling prices for Venezuelan oil exports have cut government revenue and there have been shortages of food, baby milk, medicine and other basics.

The International Monetary Fund has forecast that inflation in Venezuela will be above 700% this year.

Presidential elections are due at the end of next year.

Image source, Reuters
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President Maduro succeeded Hugo Chavez in 2013

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