Authorities have rounded up 25 Venezuelan opposition supporters ahead of protests, a rights group reports. President Nicolas Maduro has also drawn thousands of his loyalists to the streets of Caracas.
Venezuelan rights group Penal Forum reports that officials have arrested at least 25 opposition activists in the past 48 hours. The government released 12 of the prisoners by mid-afternoon on Wednesday, but it remained unclear whether officials planned to charge the 13 still held or detain them to prevent their joining protests in favor of a referendum to recall President Nicolas Maduro. The opposition say Maduro has carried out a wave of repression before Thursday's "Takeover of Caracas" marches.
"All of Venezuela is mobilizing for the right to vote" said Jesus Torrealba, the head of the main opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable.
The government expelled radio reporters from Colombia and US broadcaster NPR, along with a writer for French daily "Le Monde." On Tuesday, the national press syndicate announced that the government kicked out reporters from the broadcaster Al-Jazeera. Earlier in August, the military had detained reporters outside the presidential palace.
Opposition delegates have urged the UN and Organization of American States to monitor Thursday's protests.
Venezuela's 'fascist right'
On Thursday, Venezuela's opposition hopes to mobilize hundreds of thousands of supporters to descend on the capital to demand that the referendum against the unpopular United Socialist Party of Venezuela president proceed in a timely fashion. The 53-year-old Maduro accuses his rivals of intending to stage a violent coup.
Maduro called the protest a "fascist right" plot "directly from North American imperialism" - a possible reference to US officials' previous implication in the 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez, who died in office in 2013.
If Maduro were to lose a recall referendum held before January 10, as the opposition has called for, Venezuela would host new elections. Should Maduro lose a recall after that date, he would hand over power to his vice president. Officials from the National Electoral Council say protests will not sway them as to the date of the recall and have warned that they could halt the process should violence occur at demonstrations.
Votes for a recall would need to exceed the 7.5 million with which Maduro won in 2013. According to polling firm Venebarometro, 64 percent of the electorate favors a recall.
mkg/gsw (EFE, Reuters, AFP, dpa)