News ID: 191972
Published: 0715 GMT May 02, 2017

Maduro calls for new constitution as protests rage

Maduro calls for new constitution as protests rage

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called for a new constitution as he fights to quell a crisis that has led to more than a month of protests against him and deadly street violence.

Maduro's announcement, to thousands of supporters in Caracas, came as security forces sprayed tear gas and water cannon at anti-government demonstrators elsewhere in the capital, AFP reported on Tuesday.

The opposition slammed the tactic as a "coup d'etat" and urged protesters to "block the streets" from Tuesday. It said it was organizing a "mega protest" for Wednesday.

"People, into the streets! You must disobey such lunacy!" opposition leader Henrique Capriles said on Twitter.

The leader of the opposition-held Congress, Julio Borges, said: "What Maduro is proposing in his desperation is that Venezuela never again manages to have direct, free and democratic voting."

Maduro said he was invoking his power to create a 500-member constituent assembly representing a "working class base" and local councils to rewrite the constitution – cutting out the Congress.

The decree was needed to "block the fascist coup" he said threatened the country, repeating terms portraying his Socialist government as the victim of a US-led capitalist conspiracy.

The new constitution-writing entity would be "a citizen's constituent body, not from political parties – a people's constituent body," he said, adding the National Electoral Council would start work on the process on Tuesday.

Maduro's move mirrored that of his late Socialist predecessor Hugo Chavez, who in 1999 had a 131-member Constituent Assembly of various representatives draw up Venezuela's current constitution. The text was overwhelmingly passed by a referendum.

Back then, though, the charismatic Chavez enjoyed enthusiastic public support. Maduro, in contrast, is disapproved of by seven in 10 Venezuelans according to pollsters Venebarometro.

Anti-Maduro antipathy was evident on the streets Monday. Riot police officers clashed with hundreds of protesters, some throwing stones, who tried to break through security barriers to the electoral council headquarters.

Opposition leaders have vowed no letup in their protests demanding early elections to get rid of Maduro, whose term ends late next year.

They blame him for an economic crisis that has caused shortages of food and medicine.

Clashes between protesters and riot police left 28 people dead last month, according to prosecutors.

A lawmaker was injured in the head in Caracas, photographs published online by his supporters showed. Similar protests took place in other towns across the country.



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