Sat, Jun 03, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Maduro vows to hold referendum

Reuters, CARACAS

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday pledged to hold a referendum on a new constitution he is proposing in response to two months of protests by opponents who call him a dictator and want an end to socialist rule.

“I shall propose it explicitly: The new constitution will go to a consultative referendum so it is the people who say whether they are in agreement or not with the new, strengthened constitution,” Maduro said on state television.

His comments came in response to criticism not just from opponents, but also from within the government, that his plan to create a new super-body, known as a constituent assembly, to rewrite the national charter was anti-democratic.

Chief State Prosecutor Luisa Ortega said that creating the assembly, without a plebiscite as happened in 1999 when then-Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez rewrote the constitution, threatened to “eliminate” democracy in Venezuela.

Ortega launched a blistering attack on Maduro from the steps of the pro-government Venezuelan Supreme Court, criticizing its ruling this week endorsing the assembly plan.

“It seems that participative and protagonistic democracy, which cost Venezuelans so much [to get], is being eliminated,” said Ortega, who broke with Maduro a few weeks ago.

“This sentence is a backward step for human rights,” she said, before reading extracts from a past Chavez speech.

There was no immediate reaction from Venezuela’s opposition, which now has majority support after years in the shadow of the ruling Socialist Party, whose popularity has plunged during the nation’s economic crisis.

Foes are likely to try and turn any referendum into a vote on Maduro himself.

They have been calling for a bringing forward of the next presidential election, slated for late next year.

The government has said elections for the new constituent assembly would be held late next month, although opposition leaders have said the process is skewed to ensure a pro-Maduro majority.

There was no word on when the plebiscite would be held.

Earlier, authorities announced that gunmen had killed a judge involved in the sentencing of Venezuela’s best-known jailed political leader, Leopoldo Lopez, the latest fatality of the anti-government unrest that has left at least 61 people dead.

The judge, 37-year-old Nelson Moncada, was shot and stripped of his belongings as he tried to get away from a street barricade on Wednesday night in Caracas’ El Paraiso District, the scene of regular clashes, the prosecutor’s office said.

This week has seen widespread violence across the Venezuelan capital, with security forces repeatedly breaking up marches by opposition supporters toward government offices downtown, and skirmishes continuing into the night.

Protesters have been blocking roads with trash and burning tires, sometimes asking passersby for contributions toward a self-styled “resistance” movement against Maduro.

The government said Moncada was one of the judges who ratified Lopez’s 14-year jail sentence and suggested that might have motivated his killing.

“We cannot exclude the possibility this was done by hitmen hired by right-wing terrorists to keep creating and spreading terror,” Venezuelan Minister of the Interior Nestor Reverol said, referring to Venezuela’s opposition.

Victims from two months of unrest have included supporters on both sides, bystanders and members of the security forces.

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