VENEZUELA STRIKE ERUPTS INTO VI­O­LENCE

Maduro vows to forge ahead with re­shap­ing govern­ment de­spite protests CARACAS, VENEZUELA» A na­tion­wide strike against plans to re­write the con­sti­tu­tion shut down much of the cap­i­tal Thurs­day be­fore erupt­ing into spo­radic vi­o­lence that left at least two yo

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Weissenstein and Fabiola Sanchez The As­so­ci­ated Press

A na­tion­wide strike against plans to re­write the con­sti­tu­tion shuts down much of Venezuela’s cap­i­tal be­fore erupt­ing into spo­radic vi­o­lence that leaves at least two young men dead.

Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro pledged to forge ahead with re­shap­ing Venezuela’s govern­ment de­spite the protests and a U.S. threat to levy eco­nomic sanc­tions if he con­tin­ued. A coali­tion of op­po­si­tion groups called what it de­scribed as a “great march” for Satur­day, re­turn­ing to a strat­egy of di­rect con­fronta­tion with the govern­ment af­ter a week of al­ter­na­tive tac­tics such as or­ga­niz­ing a na­tion­wide protest vote against the con­sti­tu­tional re­write.

In New York, a se­nior diplo­mat re­signed from the Venezue­lan del­e­ga­tion to the U.N. in what he called a protest of the Maduro’s ad­min­is­tra­tion’s wide­spread hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions.

U.N. Am­bas­sador Rafael Ramirez said on Twit­ter that Min­is­ter Coun­selor Isa­ias Me­d­ina had acted dis­hon­estly and been re­moved from his post.

In a video and a let­ter posted on­line, a man who iden­ti­fies him­self as Me­d­ina and says he was Venezuela’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the Gen­eral Assem­bly’s hu­man rights com­mit­tee an­nounces his res­ig­na­tion and says he can­not be part of a govern­ment that at­tacks pro­test­ers, cen­sors the me­dia and de­tains po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers. The au­then­tic­ity of the let­ter and video could not be in­de­pen­dently con­firmed, but the footage is con­sis­tent with prior pho­tos of Me­d­ina.

Me­d­ina could not im­me­di­ately be reached for com­ment.

The is­sue is cer­tain to be raised when Venezuela’s for­eign min­is­ter, Sa­muel Mon­cada, goes to U.N. head­quar­ters in New York on Fri­day to meet U.N. Sec­re­tary­Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res.

In Caracas, wealth­ier, pro-op­po­si­tion neigh­bor­hoods in the eastern part of the city were shut­tered and silent un­til early af­ter­noon, when im­pro­vised block­ades left them al­most en­tirely cut them off from the rest of the city. Groups of masked young men set fire to a hand­ful of block­ades and hurled stones at riot po­lice, who fired back tear gas.

The chief pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice said 23year-old An­dres Uz­categui was killed in a protest in the work­ing-class neigh­bor­hood of La Is­abel­ica in the cen­tral state of Carabobo and 24-year-old Ron­ney Eloy Te­jera Soler was killed in the Los Te­ques neigh­bor­hood on Caracas’ out­skirts. At least nine people were hurt in protests, the pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice said. It of­fered no de­tails about the cir­cum­stances of the killings.

The slay­ing drives the death toll over nearly four months of protests to at least 95.

A pub­lic trans­port strike ap­peared to have halted nearly all bus traf­fic, and thou­sands of pri­vate busi­nesses de­fied govern­ment de­mands to stay open dur­ing the first ma­jor na­tional strike since a 2002 stop­page that failed to top­ple Maduro’s pre­de­ces­sor Hugo Chavez.

Maduro said on na­tional tele­vi­sion that he’ll press ahead with plans to re­write the nation’s con­sti­tu­tion and said that hun­dreds of Venezuela’s largest com­pa­nies are func­tion­ing “at 100 per­cent” de­spite the strike. The claim could not be im­me­di­ately con­firmed.

In neigh­bor­hoods of west­ern Caracas tra­di­tion­ally loyal to the rul­ing party, some stores were closed but bak­eries, fruit stands and other shops were open and hun­dreds of people were in the streets, al­though foot and ve­hi­cle traf­fic were about half of what they would be on a nor­mal week­day.

In the rest of the city, res­i­dents com­mented that the streets were emp­tier than on a typ­i­cal Sun­day.

The 24-hour strike was meant as an ex­pres­sion of na­tional dis­ap­proval of Maduro’s plan to con­vene a con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly that would re­shape the Venezue­lan sys­tem to con­sol­i­date the rul­ing party’s power over the few in­sti­tu­tions that re­main out­side its con­trol. The op­po­si­tion is boy­cotting the July 30 elec­tion to se­lect mem­bers of the assem­bly.

“Defini­tively, we need a change,” said teacher Kathe­rina Al­varez. “The main ob­jec­tive is for people to see how dis­sat­is­fied people are.”

Many of those who opted to work said they walked hours to get to their jobs, un­able to find a bus or taxi.

Ron­aldo Schemidt, AFP

Venezue­lan demon­stra­tors set fire to a small po­lice sta­tion dur­ing an anti-govern­ment protest in Caracas. Spo­radic vi­o­lence broke out Thurs­day dur­ing a 24-hour na­tion­wide strike.

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