Venezuela crisis: Tensions rise as 48-hour strike starts

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Media caption,

Venezuelans cross the border with Colombia ahead of the strike

Opposition leaders in Venezuela have called on workers to stay at home on Wednesday and Thursday as part of a nationwide strike.

It is the latest protest against President Nicolás Maduro's plans to convene a constituent assembly.

Elections to choose the members of the assembly will be held on Sunday despite calls by international leaders and the opposition to cancel them.

Critics say the assembly is a ploy by the president to expand his powers.

'End to democracy'

President Maduro says the constituent assembly will promote peace and reconciliation by bringing sectors of Venezuela's polarised society together to discuss a new constitution.

But tensions have increased since the announcement with the opposition refusing to take part in the elections for the assembly, which they say is a tool for Mr Maduro to entrench himself in power.

On Tuesday, opposition leader Leopoldo López called on Venezuelans to step up street protests saying the president's plan to rewrite the constitution would bring an end to the country's democracy.

Image source, YouTube
Image caption,
Mr López, who was recently sent from prison to house arrest, is a fierce critic of Mr Maduro

Speaking from his home where he is held under house arrest he called on the military to withdraw its support from the government.

"I invite you to not be accomplices to the annihilation of the republic, to a constitutional fraud, to repression," he said in a video posted on Twitter [in Spanish].

Critics of the constituent assembly fear that it will bypass the opposition-controlled legislature.

They have also warned that elections for regional governors scheduled for 10 December are unlikely to go ahead while the constituent assembly is meeting.

The government has dismissed calls by international leaders, including US President Donald Trump, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Organization of American States Secretary-General Luis Almagro, to scrap the plans for the constituent assembly as meddling.

Demonstrations and a 24-hour strike held last week seem to have only hardened the government's resolve to go ahead with the election.

But the opposition says it is confident it will be able to shutdown most of the country until Friday, when a massive demonstration has been scheduled in the capital, Caracas.

More than 100 people have been killed in protest-related violence since the a wave of almost daily anti-government protests began on 1 April.