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Venezuela's opposition plans mass protests after government blocks recall referendum

The aim of the recall was to force President Nicolas Maduro to leave office before his mandate expires in 2019. Unless he is toppled during mass protests, Maduro now appears likely to finish his term in office.

Venezuela's political opposition is gearing up for massive street protests next week, after the Socialist government blocked a referendum drive aimed at recalling President Nicolas Maduro.

The right-of-center opposition, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), also known as the Democratic Unity Roundtable, called for nationwide demonstrations from next Wednesday to protest the government's annulment of a key phase of the referendum process.

"A coup d'état was carried out yesterday in Venezuela," Henrique Capriles, a leading MUD figure, said during a press conference. He shouted furiously: "A coup was carried out against all Venezuelans."

Jesus Torrealba, the leader of the opposition coalition, likened Venezuela's opposition to 1980s dissidents such as Poland's Lech Walesa, who led that country's opposition to communist rule.

"Our response will not be submission or violence, but a fight ... based on the principles of peaceful resistance," Torrealba said.

The National Election Council (CNE) announced the indefinite suspension of the plebiscite, just as opponents were gearing up for a massive signature drive. Next Wednesday was to mark the start of a three-day campaign to collect 4 million signatures to demand a referendum on the president's future. 

Depressed oil prices

The oil-rich South American country has been badly affected by depressed oil prices over the last three years. A barrel of crude cost more than $105 per barrel (96.5 euros) in June 2014 - today it costs a shade over $50.

Shortages of food and medicine, as well as triple-digit inflation, have raised the ire of many Venezuelans. The political opposition blames the economic crisis on the president's mismanagement of the economy, and so it wants to recall him.

Maduro blames the crisis on the depressed oil prices, which have left the government chronically short of funds, and a US-led "economic war" against his government.

Now that ballot officials and the courts, who the political opposition claims are controlled by Maduro, have blocked the referendum, Capriles said the signature drive planned for next week would be turned into a mass protest.

"That day is going to be the beginning of a mobilization across the whole country," he said. "We will take Venezuela from end to end. The whole people will be mobilized to restore constitutional order."

Analysts fear a return to violence in the South American country, where there has been political conflict in the past; riots left 43 people dead in 2014.

bik/jm (AFP, Reuters, AP)

 

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