Venezuela pushes constitution bid amid deadly unrest

2017-06-01 08:05
President Nicolas Maduro. (Ariana Cubillos, AP)

President Nicolas Maduro. (Ariana Cubillos, AP)

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Caracas - Venezuelan authorities on Wednesday began signing up candidates for a planned constitutional reform body, a move that has inflamed deadly unrest stemming from anti-government protests.

Opponents of socialist President Nicolas Maduro say he aims to keep himself in power by stacking the planned "constituent assembly" with his allies.

He says it is a democratic way to respond to an economic and political crisis that has sparked food shortages and deadly violence in the oil-rich country.

The electoral authorities have called on candidates to sign up online on Wednesday and Thursday to seek election to the 545-member assembly, which will be tasked with writing a new constitution.

The centre right-led opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, has vowed not to take part.

"I hope no one will commit treason by taking part in such an absolutely fraudulent process," opposition leader Henrique Capriles said.

The opposition complains that Maduro plans to have a chunk of the assembly's membership elected from groups that are traditionally loyal to him.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega and a handful of other public officials have broken ranks with Maduro, criticising the authorities' crackdown on protesters.

"If that hole gets bigger, it will open a breach that could divide the government side into two blocs: one that defends the constitution and another that defends the stability of Maduro's leadership," said electoral analyst Hector Briceno.

Maduro however retains the public backing of the military.

Bursting point 

Opposition and government supporters on Wednesday planned the latest in two months of street protests, which prosecutors say have left 60 people dead.

The opposition vowed to march towards the foreign ministry in Caracas. Maduro's supporters planned a counter-rally in their stronghold in the centre of the city.

"The game seems to be deadlocked. The government is becoming more and more repressive and the opposition is continuing its protests in the street," said political analyst Luis Salamanca.

"There could be a total, serious confrontation, permanent chaos. Anything could happen here - even a popular uprising."

Legal expert Jose Ignacio Hernandez said the constituent assembly "is not a channel, it is a blockage".

"What happens in a country where there is a political crisis, a social crisis and an economic crisis where there is no exit channel? It is a society on the verge of exploding."

Read more on:    nicolas maduro  |  venezuela

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