Venezuela op­po­si­tion calls for es­ca­la­tion of street protests

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD -

Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion lead­ers called Mon­day for sup­port­ers to es­ca­late street protests af­ter more than 7.1 mil­lion peo­ple re­jected a gov­ern­ment plan to re­write the con­sti­tu­tion and con­sol­i­date its power over a coun­try stricken by short­ages and in­fla­tion and riven by more than 100 days of clashes be­tween protesters and po­lice.

The op­po­si­tion said 7,186,170 Venezue­lans par­tic­i­pated in a sym­bolic ref­er­en­dum re­ject­ing Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s plans for the July 30 elec­tion of an assem­bly that would re­make the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. Maduro’s al­lies have called on the assem­bly to im­pose ex­ec­u­tive branch au­thor­ity over the few re­main­ing in­sti­tu­tions out­side the con­trol of Venezuela’s so­cial­ist rul­ing party.

A coali­tion of some 20 op­po­si­tion par­ties as­sem­bled in its head­quar­ters Mon­day to call for a “zero hour” cam­paign of civil dis­obe­di­ence in the two weeks lead­ing to the gov­ern­ment vote. More than three months of op­po­si­tion protests have left at least 93 peo­ple dead and 1,500 wounded. More than 500 protesters and gov­ern­ment op­po­nents have been jailed.

“Right now we have to es­ca­late and deepen this street move­ment,” Na­tional Assem­bly Pres­i­dent Julio Borges told lo­cal ra­dio sta­tion Ex­i­tos Mon­day morn­ing ahead of the op­po­si­tion an­nounce­ment.

Sun­day’s op­po­si­tion vote was a strong but not over­whelm­ing show­ing that fell short of the op­po­si­tion’s 7.7 mil­lion-vote show­ing in 2015 leg­isla­tive elec­tions and the 7.5 mil­lion votes that brought Maduro to power in 2013. Op­po­si­tion lead­ers said that was be­cause they were able to set up only 2,000 polling places in a sym­bolic ex­er­cise the gov­ern­ment la­beled as il­le­git­i­mate.

Still, some sup­port­ers said they were dis­ap­pointed.

“I thought it was go­ing to be more,” said Mariela Arana, a 56-year-old school coun­sel­lor. “But these seven mil­lion peo­ple spoke and it was plenty.”

The day was marred by vi­o­lence when a 61-year-old woman was killed and four peo­ple wounded by gun­fire af­ter gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers on mo­tor­cy­cles swarmed an op­po­si­tion polling site in a church in west­ern Cara­cas.

The op­po­si­tion re­leased only turnout num­bers Sun­day night, not tal­lies of re­sponses to those ques­tions, although vir­tu­ally all who voted were be­lieved to have an­swered “yes” to the cen­tral re­jec­tion of the con­sti­tu­tional re­write.

Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro and the mil­i­tary dom­i­nate most state in­sti­tu­tions but the op­po­si­tion con­trols the congress and holds three of 23 gov­er­nor­ships. The coun­try’s chief pros­e­cu­tor has re­cently bro­ken with the rul­ing party.

Op­po­nents of Venezuela’s gov­ern­ment blame it for turn­ing one of the re­gion’s most pros­per­ous coun­tries into an eco­nomic bas­ket case with a shrink­ing econ­omy, soar­ing in­fla­tion and wide­spread short­ages. The gov­ern­ment blames the cri­sis on an eco­nomic war waged by its op­po­nents and out­side back­ers.

AP PHOTO

Na­tional Assem­bly first Vice Pres­i­dent Freddy Gue­vara speaks to the press ac­com­pa­nied by fel­low law­mak­ers in Cara­cas, Venezuela, Mon­day.

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