Wed, May 03, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Maduro appeals for new constitution

DIRECT ACTION:Riot police clashed with hundreds of protesters, some of whom were throwing stones, as they tried to break into the National Electoral Council building

AFP, CARACAS

A protester throws a Molotov cocktail during a march against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called for a new constitution on Monday as he fights to quell a crisis that has led to more than one month of protests against him and deadly street violence.

The opposition immediately rejected the idea because the body drafting the new charter would not be the result of a popular election, but rather be composed of workers and farmers.

Maduro’s announcement, to thousands of supporters in Caracas marking May Day, came as security forces sprayed tear gas and water cannons at anti-government demonstrators elsewhere in the capital.

It was likely to sharpen international concerns over Venezuela’s adherence to democracy and fears it was slipping over a precipice to civil conflict.

The opposition slammed the tactic as a “coup d’etat” and urged protesters to “block the streets” from yesterday.

It said it was organizing a “mega protest” for today.

“People, into the streets! You must disobey such lunacy!” opposition leader Henrique Capriles said on Twitter.

The leader of the nation’s opposition-held Congress, Julio Borges, said: “What Maduro is proposing in his desperation is that Venezuela never again manages to have direct, free and democratic voting.”

Maduro said he was invoking his power to create a 500-member constituent assembly representing a “working-class base” and local councils to rewrite the constitution — cutting out the Congress.

The decree was needed to “block the fascist coup” he said threatened the country, repeating terms portraying his socialist government as the victim of a US-led capitalist conspiracy.

The new constitution-writing entity would be “a citizen’s constituent body, not from political parties — a people’s constituent body,” he said.

Maduro’s move mirrored that of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who in 1999 had a 131-member constituent assembly of various representatives draw up Venezuela’s constitution. The text was overwhelmingly passed by a referendum.

However, the charismatic Chavez enjoyed enthusiastic public support. Maduro, in contrast, is disapproved of by seven in 10 Venezuelans, according to pollsters Venebarometro.

Anti-Maduro antipathy was evident on the streets on Monday. Riot police officers clashed with hundreds of protesters, some throwing stones, who tried to break through security barriers to the National Electoral Council building.

Opposition leaders have vowed no letup in their protests demanding early elections to get rid of Maduro, whose term ends late next year.

They blame him for an economic crisis that has caused shortages of food and medicine.

Clashes between protesters and riot police left 28 people dead last month, according to prosecutors.

A lawmaker was injured in the head in Caracas, photographs published online by his supporters showed. Similar protests took place in other towns across the country.

Analysts said street rallies are one of the few means the opposition has left of pressuring Maduro.

The president’s demand for a new constitution was a way of running out the clock on demands for elections, they said.

The violence and political spiral in Venezuela is increasingly unsettling other countries and regional blocs.

Pope Francis has offered to have the Vatican mediate, but was rebuffed by the opposition, which walked away from a previous attempt at dialogue in December last year when the government did not free political prisoners or set early elections as demanded.

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