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Venezuela's opposition rebuffs Maduro threats

December 12, 2017

Venezuela's opposition has said it won't be bullied out of participating in future elections, a day after threats by President Nicolas Maduro. The US said it stands with Venezuelans as they "seek to restore democracy."

An anti-government demonstrator wearing a Russian military hat protests the government of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/W. Riera

Juan Andres Mejia, a leader of the opposition party Voluntad Popular, called Sunday's mayoral elections a "farce" but vowed to take part in future elections.

"What we saw yesterday was an electoral farce that in no way represents the will of the people," Mejia said Monday, citing abuse of state resources and coercion of government employees to vote.

"This party does not kneel," Mejia said. "This party does not back down and does not give up on its principles."

On Sunday, three of the four largest opposition parties refused to take part in the mayoral vote, the last nationwide elections before the 2018 presidential race in which President Nicolas Maduro is expected to seek another term.

Read more: Maduro blocks opposition parties from presidential poll

Maduro said Sunday that opposition parties would be banned from future elections as punishment for boycotting the mayoral vote, at which Maduro's ruling Socialist Party won 308 of 335 seats, according to the government.

"A party that has not participated today cannot participate anymore," Maduro said in televised comments. "They will disappear from the political map."

At a rally held Sunday in Caracas, Maduro announced his party's electoral success as hundreds of supporters shouted "Go home, Donald Trump!"

"The imperialists have tried to set fire to Venezuela to take our riches," Maduro told the crowd. "We've defeated the American imperialists with our votes, our ideas, truths, reason and popular will."

US condemnation

On Monday, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert condemned Maduro's threat in a tweet as "yet another extreme measure to close the democratic space" in Venezuela and consolidate power in an "authoritarian dictatorship."

"A presidential election cannot be legitimate if candidates and parties cannot freely participate," she said. "We stand with the Venezuelan people as they seek to restore their democracy."

Julio Borges, president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, took his case against Maduro to the Vatican on Monday, meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's secretary of state and the former papal nuncio in Caracas.

"We agree that humanitarian cooperation and a free vote are the priorities at this moment," Borges said.

Demonstrators clash with riot security forces at the fence of an air base while rallying against President Maduro in Caracas in May
Demonstrators clashed with riot security forces while rallying against Maduro in protests earlier this yearImage: Reuters/M. Bello

Inflation, shortages, threats to democracy

Venezuela has seen months of protests that left over 120 dead. It now faces US economic sanctions as it seeks to refinance a huge international debt.

Despite being an oil-rich country, Venezuela has struggled with triple-digit inflation, food and medicine shortages and claims that Maduro's government has undermined democracy by imprisoning dissidents and usurping the powers of the National Assembly.

The crisis was triggered by Maduro's attempts earlier this year to alter the constitution, with critics claiming the proposed reforms would in effect allow the executive to bypass parliament.

Sunday's mayoral elections followed a defeat of opposition candidates in October's gubernatorial elections, where anti-Maduro candidates won five of 23 seats amid allegations of official vote-buying and other irregularities.

jbh/cmk (AP, dpa)