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.
El Paraiso has seen nightly clashes between demonstrators, pro-government gangs and National Guard soldiers.
In further political drama, the Venezuelan Supreme Court on Thursday ordered opposition leader Henrique Capriles to avoid roadblocks in the Miranda state that he governs, or face jail.
Miranda includes part of the capital Caracas, and the volatile towns of San Antonio de Los Altos and Los Teques, where anti-government street barricades have been common.
The 44-year-old lawyer narrowly lost a 2013 vote to Maduro, and has been at the forefront of this year’s protests, calling for civil disobedience.
Authorities have already barred Capriles from running for new political posts for 15 years on allegations of “administrative irregularities” that he denies, potentially hobbling another bid to run next year.
FRENCH AID: Paris has sent a navy ship and aircraft from Reunion Island with some pollution control equipment, but rough seas are spreading the oil spill The operator of a Japanese bulk carrier which ran aground off Mauritius in the Indian Ocean yesterday apologized for a major oil spill, which officials and environmentalists say is creating an ecological disaster, as police prepared to board the ship. The MV Wakashio, operated by Mitsui OSK Lines, struck the reef on Mauritius’ southeast coast on July 25. “We apologize profusely and deeply for the great trouble we have caused,” Mitsui OSK Lines executive vice president Akihiko Ono said at a news conference in Tokyo. The company would “do everything in their power to resolve the issue,” he said. At least 1,000 tonnes of
They stand as eyesores to most passers-by and potential public health risks to authorities, decaying buildings wrapped in tangles of exposed wire, studded with protruding leaky plastic pipes, vegetation billowing from cracks and terraces where particulates from polluted air have accumulated over time. With skyscrapers and ultramodern developments on every side, some of these “nail houses” are also sitting on land worth millions of dollars in Shenzhen’s inferno of a property market, where new-unit and second-hand home prices rival London. In battles over land and development, the nail house phenomenon has become widespread throughout China over the past two decades, with owners
An Italian alpine resort on Friday remained on high alert over fears that a vast chunk of a glacier on the slopes of the Mont Blanc massif could plummet in high temperatures. “No one gets through! No cars, bikes or pedestrians,” was the message at a checkpoint where an automatic barrier and two guards blocked the small road snaking up into a lush valley below the Planpincieux glacier, near the town of Courmayeur and the Italian-French border. The blockade has largely been greeted with contempt by the locals, one of whom said: “It’s a joke.” The huge ice block measuring around 500,000 cubic
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong (FCC) yesterday said that reporters in the territory were experiencing “highly unusual” visas problems, and called on the US and China to stop using the media as a political weapon. Journalists have been caught up in US-China tensions, with both sides placing limits or expelling reporters from their territories in the past few months. Now the spat is filtering into Hong Kong, a regional press hub nominally in charge of its own immigration policies. The FCC said in a statement that multiple media firms had reported delays getting visas in recent months. “The delays have affected journalists