Protests in Venezuela over new constitution

Protests in Venezuela over new constitution

Protests in Venezuela over new constitution

Venezuela's increasingly embattled president called Monday for a new constitution as an intensifying protest movement entered a second month with clashes between police and anti-government demonstrators.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's call for a new constitution to quell a deadly political crisis inflamed his opponents, who blocked roads and banged pots on Tuesday to demand elections.

At least one protester caught fire and two opposition lawmakers were among various people injured, AFP reporters at the scene said. This comes as people are struggling to cope with severe shortages of food and medicine.

Wednesday, millions took to the streets once more, bravely pushing through any fears, because now there is nothing to lose.

An 18-year-old man was reportedly killed in Wednesday's protests. A third person was killed during a looting incident at a shop in the industrial city of Valencia.

Protesters at the head of the crowd hurled stones and Molotov cocktails and officers fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to push them back. Another was struck by an armored vehicle.

Members of the National Guard stand in formation during an opposition march against President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, April 26, 2017.

The opposition accuses the elected president of manoeuvering to strengthen his grip on power. The opposition has likened Maduro's call to a coup d'etat. But that step, said Moises Rendon of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, must be followed by a referendum, which Maduro seems to have bypassed.

Maduro, a former bus-driver and union leader who rose through the ranks by faithfully following Chavez's orders, lacks both the charisma and the decisive leadership of his mentor.

Maduro said the constitutional reform body would not include political parties with seats in the opposition-controlled National Assembly, but representatives of social groups traditionally loyal to him.

Maduro's center-right opponents and some worldwide powers said the move on the constitution is an attempt to dodge local elections this year and a presidential poll set for late 2018.

Maduro regularly portrays Venezuela as the victim of a US -led capitalist conspiracy. The move is seen by critics as a veiled attempt by the unpopular president to cling to power by avoiding elections.

Maduro's own attorney general, Luisa Ortega, is unpopular with dissidents for her prosecution of opponents of the Maduro government.

"This new attack by Nicolas Maduro is the ultimate expression of the continuing coup and a deplorable intention to dissolve the republic", the National Assembly said. People blocked streets in Caraca.

It aims "not to consult with the people, but rather for the ruling party itself to choose so as to have a tailor-made constitution", said Freddy Guevara, deputy speaker of the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

The current Venezuelan Constitution has been in place since 1999, when late dictator Hugo Chávez approved its adoption.

It has announced its intention to withdraw from the OAS, where it has faced demands to abide by a democratic charter that requires free assembly and free elections.

South American governments criticized Maduro's move in stronger language than they have used so far in condemning the South American country's crisis, with Brazil calling the decree a "coup".

The past month of protests has shut down many schools and businesses.

According to August, the situation in Venezuela has become so dire that foreign nations could use it as a pretext for either military or political intervention, putting Venezuela under the "tutelage" of foreign organizations, "especially the United States through the organization of the American states".

Protesters in the capital Caracas faced off with police in a series of violent clashes on Wednesday.

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