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Defense minister issues threat before protests in Venezuela

Venezuela's defense minister says new protests would be a "provocation of unpredictable consequences." The opposition is preparing for demonstrations and a two-day nationwide general strike this week.

Venezuela's defense minister said fresh protests scheduled for Monday by the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition would be a "provocation of unpredictable consequences."

On Sunday, Vladimir Padrino Lopez said such "party mobilizations" were "irresponsible" and "a justification for crime."

Despite protests that started in April against his increasingly authoritarian rule, President Nicolas Maduro plans to push through elections for a new "constituent assembly."

Maduro's opponents call the quasi-legislative body a scheme to legitimize a government that has minority support, and have demanded free elections instead - 
including for a new president.

The government plans to deploy more than 200,000 members of the armed forces to Venezuela's 14,515 polling stations for the July 30 vote. "Election centers have been declared Zones of Special Temporary Protection to guarantee free exercise of the right to vote," Lopez wrote on Twitter.

Defying pressure

Several Latin American neighbors and the EU have also stated their opposition to the 545-member body which would have the power to rewrite Venezuela's 1999 constitution and override other institutions. Defying pressure from abroad and at home, on Sunday Maduro said the elections would go ahead.

"The imperial right wing believes it can give orders to Venezuela," the president said on his weekly "Sunday With Maduro" program, in reference to a threat from US President Donald Trump.

Venezuela: Nicolas Maduro in Caracas

Maduro blames "fascists," " terrorists" and the United States for his government's woes

Maduro also threatened to imprison "one by one" all 33 magistrates who were named last Friday by the opposition-controlled National Assembly to a parallel Supreme Court and whom Maduro has refused to recognize. "

On Saturday, one of the judicial appointees, Angel Zerpa, was arrested by state security forces, causing the opposition to level accusations of "state terrorism" and accuse the sitting judges of the Maduro-aligned Supreme Court of being an arm of the executive government instead of an independent judiciary body. 

State Prosecutor Luisa Ortega, who has previously criticized Maduro over rights abuses and the suspension of democracy, said Zerpa's location was unknown and files to have him brought to court to face any official charges. 

Venezuela's 'zero hour'?

National Assembly Vice President Freddy Guevara, an opposition leader, asked Venezuelans to stay home during a 48-hour general strike scheduled to begin on Wednesday - and then to return to the streets in Caracas on Friday to protest the government and Maduro's desired "Cuban" congress. The opposition and allied unions staged a successful 24-hour general strike last week.

"The people of Venezuela are at 'zero hour,' and this week is crucial for the country," Guevara said.

More than 100 people have died in just under four months of protests. Security forces are reported to have arrested and injured thousands. 

Watch video 01:40

Venezuela's opposition calls for strike

mkg/jm (EFE, Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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