Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 24 May 2019

Venezuelan opposition marches to seize momentum against Nicolas Maduro

Angry citizens protested late on Tuesday in at least 60 working-class neighborhoods around the country

Venezuelans prepared for a major protest march on Wednesday after dozens of violent demonstrations overnight.

The opposition is seeking to force President Nicolas Maduro from office amid global criticism of the socialist leader.

Angry citizens protested late on Tuesday in at least 60 working-class neighbourhoods around the country.

They burnt rubbish and clashed with troops in a return to the violent street demonstrations of two years ago.

Venezuela’s Observatory of Social Conflict said a youth, 16, was shot dead at a protest in a poor area of Caracas.

The opposition has been energised by a new leader of Congress, Juan Guaido, and by the harsh international reception of Mr Maduro’s second term, widely condemned as illegitimate.

But any change in government will rest on a shift in allegiance within the armed forces. They have stood by Mr Maduro through two street protests and a dismantling of democratic institutions.

Mr Guaido, 35, has called for the military to renounce Mr Maduro and promised amnesty for those who help bring about a return to democracy.

He has said he would be willing to replace him as interim president, with the support of the military, to call free elections.

“We’re not asking you to stage a coup d’etat, we’re not asking you to shoot,” Mr Guaido told the military on Monday. “We’re asking you not to shoot at us.”

He would provide legal protection to soldiers and officials who defected if he became president, although “there would have to be justice for those who have done bad things”.

Wednesday’s march, an annual event that commemorates the 61st anniversary of the fall of a military dictatorship, was expected to draw hundreds of thousands.

The ruling Socialist Party is holding a rival march, and officials have threatened Mr Guaido with prison.

US Vice President Mike Pence issued a message of support to Venezuelans on Tuesday, promising support for Mr Guaido and calling Mr Maduro a “dictator with no legitimate claim to power”.

“Yankee, go home,” Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said in response. She denounced “the perverse plans of Venezuela’s extreme right to endanger stability and peace”.

The pro-government Supreme Court, which annulled the powers of the Congress in 2017, ruled on Monday not to recognise Mr Guaido as its head and asked the state prosecutor’s office to determine whether he had committed a crime.

Mr Maduro was inaugurated on January 10 after an election last year that was widely regarded as a sham.

He has presided over Venezuela’s decline into its worst economic crisis, with inflation forecast to reach 10 million per cent this year.

Mr Maduro’s administration has jailed dozens of opposition activists and leaders for seeking to overthrow him through street demonstrations in 2014 and 2017.

Clashes with police in 2017 killed 125 people.

Updated: January 23, 2019 07:22 PM

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