Venezuela Opposition Lawmakers Protest At Gates Of Military Headquarters

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

By Andreina Aponte and Diego Oré | CARACAS

Venezuela opposition lawmakers placed pretend coffins and body bags at gates of the National Guard headquarters on Tuesday in protest after the latest fatality in anti-government unrest that has killed at least 75 people since April.

Footage and photos from demonstrations on Monday showed at least three members of the National Guard – a military unit with public order responsibilities – aiming and firing pistols in clashes on a major Caracas highway.

A 17-year-old demonstrator was shot in the chest and died, while several others were injured.

“You cannot keep killing people in the street!” opposition lawmaker Tomas Guanipa shouted during the early-morning protest in the middle-class El Paraiso zone of Caracas.

“Who gave the order to shoot?” asked another lawmaker Jose Olivares as soldiers watched silently from inside their base.

Venezuelan authorities said two National Guard members had been detained on Monday for what the interior minister called “presumed improper and disproportionate use of force” when thousands of protesters flooded the streets.

And President Nicolas Maduro announced that the general in charge of the National Guard, Antonio Benavides, was being replaced by another military man, Sergio Rivero.

“Win peace! That is our aim,” Maduro told Rivero, without giving reasons for the change.

Opposition leaders accuse Rivero and other military leaders appointed by Maduro of human rights violations during the recent protests.

“Generals and admirals that we denounced before the state prosecutors’ office for committing atrocities against Venezuelans are being given honors and promotions,” wrote opposition legislator Gabriela Arellano via Twitter.

The Defense Ministry and the Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the issue.

As well as the fatalities, thousands of people have been injured or arrested since Venezuela’s opposition began its latest street campaign against Maduro’s socialist government in early April.

They accuse Hugo Chavez’s successor of becoming a dictator and wrecking the once-prosperous OPEC member’s economy, demanding a presidential election to end his rule.

Maduro, 54, narrowly won election in 2013 to replace Chavez after his death from cancer, but has seen his approval rating halve to just above 20 percent during four years of an economic crisis causing hunger and shortages.

VICTIMS ON ALL SIDES

Maduro says “terrorists” and “fascists” are leading the protests in an effort to topple him by force as briefly happened to Chavez in 2002. Government supporters, bystanders and some members of the security forces have also been victims of the violence, with gunshot wounds the most common cause.

Though thousands turned out on Monday, many grassroots opposition supporters feel intimidated by the daily violence in cities around Venezuela, where masked youths barricade streets and hurl stones and Molotov cocktails against security forces with tear gas and water cannons.

Pro-government gangs with guns sometimes join the fray.

There is also some exhaustion setting in within protester ranks after 80 days of what the opposition calls “resistance” and the government terms “armed insurrection”.

Opposition leaders have, however, vowed to step up tactics to increase pressure on Maduro. They are seeking to halt Maduro’s plan for July 30 elections for a special assembly to rewrite the constitution, a move they say is rigged to keep him in power.

Chief state prosecutor Luisa Ortega has been leading dissent against the plan from within government, earning her a barrage of accusations from officials ranging from corruption to insanity and promoting violence.

The Supreme Court on Monday accepted a request by a ruling Socialist Party lawmaker to begin the process of taking her to trial for committing “serious offenses.”

Before any trial could take place, the Supreme Court would first have to hold a preliminary hearing to determine whether a trial is warranted.

(Additional reporting by Diego Ore and Victoria Ramirez; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Grant McCool and James Dalgleish)

Venezuela’s Government Has Now Murdered 58 Civilians During Ongoing Protests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Protesters Turn to State Media Regulator as Venezuela Unrest Continues

Venezuela

Protests against socialist President Nicolas Maduro continued in Venezuela on Friday as the opposition urged demonstrators to rally again on Saturday at the offices of the state media regulator.

Riot police in Venezuela fired tear gas and water cannon to stop anti-government protesters from marching on a key military installation Friday during the latest violence in nearly two months of unrest.

The opposition is trying to sway the support of the armed forces, a key pillar of the government of Maduro, who is resisting opposition calls for early elections.

Retired military personnel joined demonstrators who tried to march to the Los Proceres complex, which houses the defense ministry and lies close to a major military base in Caracas.

Friday’s protest was aimed at “demanding that the armed forces lower their weapons and not be complicit in the dictatorship,” said Freddy Guevara, an opposition leader who is vice president of parliament, the only branch of government the opposition controls.

He called on the military to reject a “constituent assembly” to be elected in July and tasked with drafting a new constitution, saying Maduro’s plans “will liquidate Venezuelan democracy forever.”

Masked protesters threw Molotov cocktails at riot police in scenes familiar after nearly two months of unrest.

A 33-year-old man who was injured Thursday night during a protest in the western city of Cabudare died on Friday, bringing the death toll from eight weeks of unrest to 58.

Several people were also injured in the capital on Friday, including opposition lawmaker Carlos Paparoni, who was struck in the leg with a blunt object.

Attorney General Luisa Ortega blamed military police for hundreds of injuries and at least one death.

Protesters brand the socialist president a dictator, blaming him for economic turmoil and food shortages.

Maduro is resisting their calls for early elections, saying the opposition and the United States are plotting a coup against him.

Despite the opposition’s calls for the military to abandon Maduro, the high command has retained its public support for him so far.

A crowd of Maduro’s supporters in red shirts started a counter-demonstration on Friday near the presidential palace in central Caracas.

The president has launched steps to reform the constitution in response to the crisis. His opponents say that is a bid to dodge elections and cling to power.

The National Electoral Council said those who wanted to stand for election to the constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution should sign up next Thursday and Friday.

Meanwhile, the state telecom regulator Conatel has come under scrutiny for its coverage of the protests.

In the mountains above Caracas, two government officials often stand watch over the antennas of TV news network Globovision, poised to take it off air if regulators object to coverage of anti-government protests, according to two station employees.

They said the 24-hour Venezuelan news station receives regular warnings from Conatel against showing live footage of clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces, or broadcasting terms such as “dictatorship” and “repression.”

“It’s a daily threat,” said one of the employees, citing information from station managers and asking not to be identified for fear of reprisals.

“Conatel is making decisions about coverage.”

In contrast to past waves of unrest in Venezuela, particularly during Hugo Chavez’s 1999-2013 rule, the nation’s three main private television stations have provided minimal live coverage of the latest anti-government demonstrations.

They rarely show more than a few minutes of real-time images of protests.

However, the private networks, including Globovision, do give broadly equal weight to opposition and government leaders and supporters in broadcasts – contrary to assertions by critics that they muzzle the opposition.

“If people abroad sampled Venezuela’s TV media directly, as opposed to judging it by what is said about it by the international media and some big NGOs, they’d be shocked to find the opposition constantly denouncing the government and even making very thinly veiled appeals to the military to oust Maduro,” said Joe Emersberger, a Canadian blogger who tracks Venezuelan media and writes for state-funded Telesur network.

“Focusing on ‘live’ coverage is just a way to avoid acknowledging they (protests) are being extensively covered.”

Regulators do openly describe vigilance of coverage, with Conatel director Andres Mendez recently telling state TV the regulator was constantly evaluating Globovision and some of its anchors. “We sometimes have pleasant conversations with (Globovision’s) president,” he said.

Ruling Socialist Party officials scoff at the idea of any censorship, insisting the government is the victim of a US-supported campaign by private local and international media to depict it as a repressive regime and thus justify a coup.

They recall that private media openly backed a bungled 2002 coup against Chavez, and accuse media of exaggerating the protests to weaken Maduro’s government.

Unable to follow the protests live on TV, many Venezuelans have turned to other sources of information, especially online.

“I find out what’s going on from my phone and social media,” said Claudia Mejias, who watches Colombian network Caracol via cable at the hair salon where she works and then shares information with friends via Whatsapp and Facebook.

Though social media platforms have to some extent supplanted TV news, they frequently transmit inaccurate information.

And only 53 percent of Venezuelans have internet access, according to one local research firm.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Pope Urges End Of Violence In Venezuela And For Government To Respect Human Rights

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Pope Francis urged on Sunday for an end to the violence that has marred the anti-government protests in Venezuela.

He called for the respect of human rights where nearly 30 people were killed in unrest this month.

Francis, speaking to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly address, decried a “grave humanitarian, social, political and economic crisis that is exhausting the population”.

Venezuela’s opposition is demanding elections, autonomy for the legislature where they have a majority, a humanitarian aid channel from abroad to alleviate an economic crisis, and freedom for more than 100 activists jailed by President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

“I make a heartfelt appeal to the government and all components of Venezuelan society to avoid any more forms of violence, respect human rights and seek a negotiated solution …,” he said.

Supporters say Leopoldo Lopez, the jailed head of the hardline opposition Popular Will party, and others are political prisoners whose arrests symbolize Maduro’s lurch into dictatorship.

Maduro says all are behind bars for legitimate crimes, and calls Lopez, 45, a violent hothead intent on promoting a coup.

Vatican-led talks between the government and the opposition have broken down.

Francis told reporters on the plane returning from Cairo on Saturday that “very clear conditions” were necessary for the talks to resume.

On Friday, Venezuela formally notified the Organization of American States of its intention to leave the regional body amid the protests at home and international calls for its embattled government to hold delayed elections and release prisoners.

Venezuelan interim ambassador Carmen Velasquez submitted a letter announcing the move in Washington to OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, a strong critic of socialist President Maduro.

The notice begins a two-year exit process from the Western Hemisphere’s largest diplomatic body, which had become a forum for its neighbors to exert pressure on Venezuela.

“This is a historic moment that marks a new independence for Venezuela and the region,” said Velasquez, adding that Venezuela would be the first country to leave the Washington-based bloc this way. “We are not going to be participating in any OAS activities.”

On Friday, hundreds marched to a military prison outside Caracas to demand the release of opposition Lopez and other jailed activists they consider political prisoners.

The march was part of an intensifying campaign by the opposition to force Maduro from office. More than 1,300 people have been arrested in almost four weeks of street clashes.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Venezuela says it will quit Organization of American States

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

The Americas

Venezuela says it will quit Organization of American States

An opposition activist clashes with riot police during a protest march in Caracas on April 26. (Ronaldo Schemidt/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

By Mariana Zuñiga and Nick Miroff April 26 at 7:57 PM

CARACAS, Venezuela — Faced with growing criticism from its neighbors over a slide toward authoritarian rule, Venezuela announced Wednesday it will quit the Organization of American States, the hemisphere’s oldest regional alliance.

The move comes after OAS member states voted Wednesday to convene an emergency meeting of their top diplomats to discuss the worsening humanitarian crisis and deadly political violence that has convulsed Venezuela all month. At least three people were killed in fresh protests Wednesday, including a 20-year-old student struck by a tear gas canister in Caracas.

Speaking on national television Wednesday evening, foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez said President Nicolás Maduro would give formal notice on Thursday of Venezuela’s plans to renounce its OAS membership. During the 24-month period it will take for the country to formally leave, Rodriguez said her government will no longer participate in OAS activities or meetings with other nations she said are trying to “undermine the stability and peace of our country” with the goal of promoting an “invasion.”

OAS general secretary Luis Almagro in recent months has become a fierce critic of Maduro’s, calling him a “dictator” guilty of widespread human rights violations. His concerns are backed by the Washington-based OAS’s largest member states: the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Colombia and several others.

If Venezuela quits OAS, which was founded in 1948, it would join its leftist ally Cuba, whose communist government was expelled in 1962, as the only non-OAS nation in the hemisphere. But Venezuela’s opposition-controlled legislature may attempt to block it, and if Maduro is unseated in elections due to take place late next year, his successor could halt the process.

Opposition supporters attend a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas as police respond with tear gas. (Christian Veron/Reuters)

Chris Sabatini, a Latin America expert at Columbia University, said Venezuela’s withdrawal risks a major split in OAS if Nicaragua, Bolivia and other Maduro allies follow him in protest.

“At that point, the body that had once represented the hemisphere would be fractured,” Sabatini said, adding that none of the region’s other international organizations has the same institutional heft as the OAS, including the CELAC bloc of states that excludes the United States and Canada.

Venezuela has asked for an emergency CELAC meeting, that, if boycotted by many other Latin America nations, could leave that international body crippled as well, Sabatini noted, saying Venezuela’s decision is a “rejection of long-standing international rules and commitments” that leaves it increasingly isolated.

On Wednesday, thousands of anti-Maduro protesters again seized control of the main highway through Venezuela’s capital, but their march toward government buildings downtown was pushed back by police water cannons and stinging clouds of tear gas.

Although the standoff has played out the same way several times this month, opponents of Maduro insist they will continue to pressure his government through near-daily protests, sit-ins and other acts of civil disobedience.

One 20-year-old protester died after being struck with a gas canister in the city’s upscale Altamira district, authorities said.

As the government lashed out at foreign critics Wednesday, the blocked march underscored the degree to which the country’s political crisis has become a battle of attrition ­between Maduro and his ­re-energized opponents.

Venezuela’s opposition clashes with police

The country’s political crisis intensified after its supreme court curbed the powers of the opposition-controlled legislature, then reversed the rulings days later.

Caracas was crippled for another day as the government shut down subway and bus systems and choked off highway access to the capital in what appeared to be an attempt to limit the size of the protests.

Thousands marched against the government anyway, some ready with gas masks. By calling their supporters into the streets repeatedly, opposition leaders say they want to wear down security forces and push the government to meet their demands: new elections, the release of political prisoners, acceptance of international aid and a return to democratic rule.

Their ability to summon huge crowds also sends a message to Venezuela’s armed forces, said political analyst Margarita López Maya, because Maduro grows increasingly dependent on their loyalty as he weakens. Opposition leaders are appealing directly to Venezuelan soldiers, asking them to defy Maduro’s orders and force the government to give ground.

“By putting thousands and thousands of people in the streets almost every day, they’re trying to keep the cost of supporting Maduro very high for the armed forces,” said López Maya. “And the government is in a slide that looks irreversible.”

[Government opponents appeal to Venezuela’s military as chaos grows]

The unrest has left at least 29 dead this month, according to Venezuelan officials, including protesters, police, government supporters, alleged looters and several others who appeared to be bystanders.

The antigovernment surge was triggered by a perfunctory attempt by pro-Maduro judges last month to incapacitate Venezuela’s legislative branch, which the opposition has controlled since it won a landslide victory in the 2015 elections.

The court mostly reversed the decision, but anger swelled again a few days later when the government barred opposition leader Henrique Capriles from running for office.

Venezuela’s downward spiral has left food and medicine in short supply but anger at the government in abundance. Maduro charges that his enemies are trying to sabotage the oil-rich country’s economic recovery and are paving the way for a foreign invasion.

“They want to fill our country with hate, to push our country into violence,” Maduro said Wednesday. He said he plans to announce “a historic measure” in the coming days but did not elaborate.

Venezuelans Protest Against Dictator Maduro In 4th Week, Protesting Starvation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

By Brian Ellsworth and Diego Oré | CARACAS

Venezuelans erected barricades with garbage and even bathtubs on Monday and snarled traffic with mass “sit-ins” along major thoroughfares to press their demand for early elections as anti-government protests entered a fourth week.

Ten people have been killed during clashes this month between security forces armed with rubber bullets and tear gas and protesters sometimes throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails.

At least 10 people have also died during night-time looting.

President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government accuses foes of seeking a violent coup with U.S. connivance, while the opposition says he is a dictator repressing peaceful protest.

The opposition’s main demands are for elections, the release of jailed activists and autonomy for the opposition-led congress. But protests are also fueled by the crippling economic crisis in the oil-rich nation of 30 million people.

“I have an empty stomach because I can’t find food,” said Jeannette Canozo, a 66-year-old homemaker, who said police used rubber bullets against protesters blocking a Caracas avenue with trash and bathtubs in the early morning.

Demonstrators wore the yellow, blue and red colors of Venezuela’s flag and held signs denouncing shortages, inflation and violent crime as they chanted: “This government has fallen!”

In the capital, they streamed from several points onto a major highway, where hundreds of people sat, carrying bags of supplies, playing card games, and shielding themselves from the sun with hats and umbrellas.

In western Tachira, at another of the “sit-ins” planned for all of Venezuela’s 23 states, some played the board-game Ludo in the street, while others played soccer or enjoyed street theater.

At protests in southern Bolivar state, a university professor gave a lecture on politics while some people sat down to play Scrabble and others cooked soup over small fires in the streets.

The demonstrations were largely peaceful by mid-afternoon, although there were some scattered reports of security forces dispersing people with tear gas.

“In the morning they appear peaceful, in the afternoon they turn into terrorists and at night bandits and killers,” senior Socialist Party official Diosdado Cabello said. “Let me tell them straight: we’re not going, Nicolas (Maduro) is not going.”

WORST UNREST IN THREE YEARS

This month’s unrest is Venezuela’s worst since 2014 when 43 people died in months of mayhem sparked by protests against Maduro, the 54-year-old successor to late leftist leader Hugo Chavez.

The latest protests began when the pro-government Supreme Court assumed the powers of the opposition-controlled congress. The court quickly reversed course, but its widely condemned move still galvanized the opposition.

The government’s disqualification from public office of two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who would be an opposition favorite to replace Maduro, gave further impetus to the demonstrations.

“I’m staying here until 6 p.m. We’re simply warming up because the day will come that we are all coming to the street until this government goes,” said Gladys Avariano, a 62-year-old lawyer, under an umbrella at the Caracas “sit-in.”

More than 1,400 people have been arrested this month over the protests, with 636 still detained as of Monday, according to local rights group Penal Forum.

Facing exhortations from around the world to allow Venezuelans to vote, Maduro has called for local state elections – delayed from last year – to be held soon.

But there is no sign the government will allow the next presidential election, slated for late 2018, to be brought forward as the opposition demands.

Given the country’s economic crisis, with millions short of food, pollsters say the ruling Socialist Party would fare badly in any vote at the moment.

Trying to keep the pressure on Maduro, the opposition is seeking new strategies, such as a silent protest held on Saturday and Monday’s “sit-ins”.

While some small demonstrations have been held in poorer and traditionally pro-government areas, most poor Venezuelans are more preoccupied with putting food on the table.

(Additional reporting by Andreina Aponte, Carlos Garcia Rawlins and Efrain Otero in Caracas, and Anggy Polanco and Carlos Eduardo Ramirez in San Cristobal; Writing by Girish Gupta and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Tom Brown and James Dalgleish)

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Venezuela: Does An Incompetent Tyrant Ever Willingly Give Up The Presidency?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

In escalation of crisis, Venezuela congress to put Maduro on trial

Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly on Sunday vowed to put Nicolas Maduro on trial for violating democracy, days after authorities nixed a recall referendum against the unpopular socialist president.

The measure is unlikely to get traction given the leftist government and a compliant Supreme Court have systematically undermined the legislature, but it further heightens tensions in the crisis-hit OPEC nation.

“It is a political and legal trial against President Nicolas Maduro to see what responsibility he has in the constitutional rupture that has broken democracy, human rights, and the future of the country,” said opposition lawmaker Julio Borges during a special congressional session on Sunday.

The opposition coalition, seeking to end 17 years of socialism in the South American nation, says Thursday’s suspension of its drive for a plebiscite against Maduro shows Venezuela has abandoned democracy.

Ruling party officials have accused the opposition of fraud in their signature drive and say the coalition is seeking a coup to gain control of Venezuela’s vast crude reserves, the world’s largest.

Despite that oil wealth, Venezuela has plunged into an unprecedented economic crisis, with many people skipping meals due to shortages and soaring prices.

Many Venezuelans fear that preventing a the referendum increases chances of social unrest in the already volatile and violent country.

The opposition coalition has called for a major peaceful protest on Wednesday, dubbed “The takeover of Venezuela” to keep pushing for the plebiscite.

(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer