Venezuela’s Maduro calls for new charter as protests rage
CARACAS – Agence France-PresseVenezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called for a new constitution May 1 as he fights to quell a crisis that has led to more than a month of protests against him and deadly street violence.
The opposition immediately rejected the idea because the body drafting the new charter would not be the result of a popular election but rather be composed of workers and farmers. Maduro’s announcement, to thousands of supporters in Caracas marking May Day, came as security forces sprayed tear gas and water cannon at anti-government demonstrators elsewhere in the capital. It was likely to sharpen international concerns over Venezuela’s adherence to democracy and fears it was slipping over a precipice to civil conflict.
The opposition slammed the tactic as a “coup d’etat” and urged protesters to “block the streets” from May 2. It said it was organizing a “mega protest” for May 3. “People, into the streets! You must disobey such lunacy!” opposition leader Henrique Capriles said on Twitter. The leader of the oppositionheld 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 U.S.-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 yesterday.