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Venezuela

Strike in Venezuela as President Maduro threatens opponents with jail

Venezuela's president has threatened to jail "anyone who violates the constitution," amid vows by his opponents to launch a trial to remove him from power. The warning came after a day of opposition-led strikes.

After a tense day of standoffs between the government and the opposition coalition, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro vowed to imprison his political opponents if they follow through on their political trial against him.

"If they launch a supposed political trial, which is not in our constitution, the state prosecution service must bring legal action in the courts and put in jail anyone who violates the constitution, even if they are members of Congress," Maduro said.

The opposition Democratic Unity coalition had called for a 12-hour strike on Friday as part of its escalating protest against the government. While it was only partially observed, there was less than the usual flow of traffic on the main streets of the capital, Caracas. Shops were also closed.

Maduro went on the offensive in his rhetoric on Friday amid a volatile political and economic crisis that has sparked mass unrest across the country.

Watch video 01:03

Venezuelans take to streets in anti-Maduro protests

Friday's strike was called after ruling officials blocked a bid by opposition lawmakers to hold a plebiscite on whether to remove Maduro from power. That move led hundreds of demonstrators to take to the streets on Wednesday and the opposition to vow to put Maduro on trial, as they reportedly exchanged accusations of "coup-mongering" with the president.

Strikes partially observed

Participation in Friday's strikes was patchy. While streets in the major cities of Caracas, San Cristobal and Maracaibo were reportedly quieter than normal, public transport ran as usual, and some banks and schools remained open.

The ruling government threatened to shut down any businesses that complied with the opposition and closed as part of the strike. Intelligence agents were posted outside of major private companies and the food conglomerate, Polar.

"We are going to look for the big company owners, the leaders of [business group] Fedecamaras if they insist on a coup d'etat like in 2002," said Diosdado Cabello, the ruling Socialist Party's second-in-command, referring to the short-lived putsch against then-President Hugo Chavez.

Economic and political crisis

Highly dependent on oil exports, the tumbling crude oil price has plunged the country into an economic recession. The recession, which Maduro has called a capitalist conspiracy and his opponents have said was caused by state mismanagement, has spawned a messy political battle.

Nicolas Maduro at a rally (Reuters/M. Bello)

Maduro addressed a pro-government rally in Caracas on Friday

The opposition won a majority in the National Assembly in December last year, forcing Maduro to share power.

Each side has accused the other of a coup attempt. Maduro has accused the opposition of staging a "parliamentary coup" by voting to put him on trial for alleged breaches of duty, while the opposition coalition has accused the president of a coup attempt by blocking the referendum.

The opposition has now vowed to march on the presidential palace next week, the scene of the short-lived but deadly coup attempt against Chavez in 2002.

Maduro has called for dialogue to address the crisis, though it remains unclear whether talks between the two sides will go ahead.

Court rules Maduro is Venezuelan

Meanwhile, Venezuela's top court on Friday ruled that Maduro is indeed Venezuelan. The ruling came after years of opposition speculation that the socialist leader was in fact born in neighboring Colombia and had dual citizenship.

"The incontrovertible evidence demonstrates with absolute certainty that the aforementioned Venezuelan head of state was born in Caracas," the Supreme Court ruled. It also said Maduro has no other nationality.

Some of the president's opponents have sought to remove him from office on the grounds that a second nationality would not allow him to hold the presidency.

Watch video 06:05

Venezuela: No medicine for sick children

dm, jm/cmk (AFP, Reuters)

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