Venezuela’s Maduro starts con­sti­tu­tion re­write amid protests

Cape Breton Post - - World -

Thou­sands of pro­test­ers were met with plumes of tear gas in Venezuela’s cap­i­tal Wed­nes­day, just miles from where Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro de­liv­ered a de­cree kick­ing off a process to re­write the trou­bled na­tion’s con­sti­tu­tion.

Sur­rounded by top-rank­ing so­cial­ist of­fi­cials, a com­bat­ive, riled-up Maduro told sup­port­ers dressed in red out­side the Na­tional Elec­toral Coun­cil that the con­sti­tu­tional as­sem­bly was needed to in­stil peace against a vi­o­lent op­po­si­tion.

“I see congress shak­ing in its boots be­fore a con­sti­tu­tional con­ven­tion,” he said, re­fer­ring to the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled legislature.

A short dis­tance away, na­tional guards­men launched tear gas at demon­stra­tors who tried march­ing to­ward the Na­tional As­sem­bly.

“The re­pres­sion has started,” said Miguel Pizarro, an op­po­si­tion con­gress­man, as clouds of white tear gas swirled near him. “That’s how those who want to main­tain a dic­ta­tor­ship with vi­o­lence act.”

The lat­est push by Maduro to set­tle an in­creas­ingly deadly and con­tentious political cri­sis comes as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion warns it might im­pose more sanc­tions on Venezue­lan of­fi­cials and mem­bers of the U.S. Congress are push­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion to act more force­fully to rein in Maduro.

On Wed­nes­day, a bi­par­ti­san group of se­na­tors said it will in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion pro­vid­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance to Venezuela while tough­en­ing sanc­tions against cor­rupt of­fi­cials, ac­cord­ing to Se­nate aides who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

The leg­is­la­tion, a copy of which was ob­tained by The As­so­ci­ated Press, also in­structs the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity to pre­pare a partly un­clas­si­fied re­port on Venezue­lan govern­ment of­fi­cials’ in­volve­ment in cor­rup­tion and drug traf­fick­ing.

Four peo­ple were killed in the mount­ing tur­moil overnight. Two died when the bus they were trav­el­ling in flipped when it tried to avoid a bar­ri­cade set up by pro­test­ers, ac­cord­ing to op­po­si­tion ac­tivists who live near the ac­ci­dent site in Carabobo state. A third per­son was killed dur­ing loot­ing at a shop in the in­dus­trial city of Va­len­cia and a mo­tor­cy­clist died af­ter be­ing struck by a car try­ing to swerve away from a protest, the chief pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice said.

The deaths bring to at least 34 the num­ber of peo­ple who have died in the un­rest over the past month. Hun­dreds more have been in­jured.

Driv­ing the lat­est out­rage is the de­cree by Maduro to be­gin the process of rewrit­ing Venezuela’s con­sti­tu­tion, which was pushed through in 1999 by his pre­de­ces­sor and men­tor, the late Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez.

AP PHOTO

Na­tional guards­men stand on a high­way over­look­ing an anti-govern­ment march try­ing to make its way to the Na­tional As­sem­bly in Cara­cas, Venezuela, Wed­nes­day.

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