Venezuela: Opposition leader calls for coup as right-wing protests turn violent

Anti-government demonstrators attack police in Caracas. Photo from TeleSUR.

Right-wing protests hit the streets of Caracas and other cities across Venezuela — and in some cases turned violent, attacking police and other targets.

The protests were part of a May 18 national day of action to demand that electoral authorities speed up the process of scheduling a recall referendum against left-wing President Nicolas Maduro.

The national mobilisation came after right-wing leader Henrique Capriles gave a press conference on May 17 in which he invoked violence and called for the country's armed forces to “pick a side”.

“Prepare the tanks and warplanes,” Capriles said, appealing directly to the military. “The hour of truth is coming to decide whether you are with the constitution or with Maduro.”

The next day, thousands of demonstrators in Caracas gathered on the central Plaza Venezuela with plans to march a few blocks to the nearby National Electoral Council (CNE). Anti-government protesters, who waged a similar protest a week before, are putting pressure on authorities to move quickly to validate signatures submitted to fulfil requirements for a recall referendum.

Some of the protesters have attacked police officers, who are safeguarding the nearby Electoral Council. Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodriguez said protesters also destroyed a library and doused police with gasoline.

The opposition is pushing for the recall referendum to happen this year. If the recall vote takes place after January 10, 2017, marking four years into Maduro's six-year term, the country's top office would be automatically handed over to Vice President Aristobulo Isturiz until the next scheduled election in 2019.

Opponents of Maduro have accused electoral authorities of stalling after they handed in a list of 1.85 million signatures on May 2 in favour of a recall referendum. But Maduro said on May 17 that the recall referendum was “not viable” due to allegedly false signatures on the petition.

According to the commission overseeing the referendum proposal process, 190,000 of the signatures on the list belonged to deceased people.

On May 17, the opposition-led National Assembly also rejected Maduro's emergency decree that aims to address economic problems caused by shortages and severe drought. The decree gives Maduro greater discretion to decide spending priorities and use security forces to maintain public order.

Capriles has called for Venezuelans to not recognise the decree, saying that the government will have to impose it “by force” if it wants to implement the measures.

Many expected ongoing right-wing protests to escalate in violence. Opposition protests against the election of Maduro, including violent street blockades, resulted in the death of 43 people.

[Compiled from TeleSUR English.]

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