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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