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Venezuela’s Maduro accuses opponents of ‘parliamentary coup’

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Caracas, Venezuela | AFP | 

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused the opposition-majority legislature Tuesday of staging a “parliamentary coup” after lawmakers voted to put him on trial amid a tense political and economic crisis.

“I have called a meeting tomorrow at 11:00 am (1500 GMT) at the National Defense Council for all public powers to evaluate the parliamentary coup by the National Assembly,” the embattled leftist told supporters at a rally.

 

Venezuela’s opposition-majority legislature voted Tuesday to open a political trial against President Maduro, who is resisting efforts to remove him from power in a tense political and economic crisis.

Lawmakers summoned Maduro to appear before the National Assembly next Tuesday to answer to charges of “abandoning his post” and “criminal and political responsibility” for what they have declared an attack on democracy.

It was the latest salvo from an opposition furious over the authorities’ decision last week to halt their efforts to call a referendum on removing Maduro from office — a right guaranteed under Venezuela’s constitution.

But it is unclear what impact the legislative vote will have. The Supreme Court — which the opposition claims Maduro controls — has ruled the National Assembly’s decisions invalid.

The divided opposition is seeking to show a united front after first accepting and then rejecting a proposal by Pope Francis on Monday for talks with the government on the country’s deepening crisis.

After Maduro held a private audience with Francis at the Vatican, the pope’s envoy for the Venezuela crisis announced the two sides had agreed to a “national dialogue.”

But some top opposition leaders voiced bewilderment, saying they had only learned on TV about the proposal to hold talks on the Caribbean island of Margarita.

– ‘The devil’ –

The rift lay bare the divisions in the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a shaky coalition united mainly by shared hatred of Maduro.

Seeking to get back on track with its strategy to oust Maduro — the man it blames for driving the once-booming oil producer to the brink of collapse — the opposition vowed to stick to its strategy of anti-government protests and an assault from the legislature.

“No dialogue has been opened in Venezuela. The MUD’s agenda remains intact,” said Henrique Capriles, a state governor and two-time presidential candidate.

He accused Maduro of using the pope’s goodwill for his own ends.

“What you must know is that we in Venezuela are fighting against Satan. This is the devil we’re facing, they are devils. They believe in nothing, they have no principles. They say they’re Christians when it’s convenient,” he said.

– ‘Not even Superman Francis…’ –

Political analysts were meanwhile skeptical about the prospects for talks to resolve the crisis.

“Even if Pope Francis comes here dressed up as Superman, dialogue won’t resolve” Venezuela’s problems, said political scientist Nicmer Evans.

The MUD said Monday it would only agree to talks if the government respected the right to a referendum and freed its imprisoned activists and leaders, among other demands.

– Bad to worse –

Analysts have warned of a risk of violent unrest in Venezuela. Clashes at anti-government protests in 2014 left 43 people dead.

On Monday a students’ group said 27 people were injured in clashes with police at a protest in the western city of San Cristobal.

Hit by the fall of global oil prices, Venezuela’s economy has crashed, sparking protests and looting driven by shortages of food, medicine and basic goods.

Maduro calls the economic crisis a capitalist conspiracy.

His opponents say it is the result of severe mismanagement during 17 years of socialist rule under Maduro and his late mentor, Hugo Chavez.

In recession since the beginning of 2014, Venezuela’s economy is facing a contraction of 10 percent this year and inflation of 475 percent, rising to 1,660 percent next year, the IMF forecasts.

A recent poll found more than 75 percent of Venezuelans disapprove of Maduro.

The center-right opposition rode that discontent to a landslide win in legislative elections last December — only for the Supreme Court to block its every move in the National Assembly.

– Maduro jets back –

The opposition is planning nationwide protests Wednesday, the day it was to have begun collecting the four million signatures needed to trigger a recall referendum.

Maduro led a rally of his supporters Tuesday after arriving back in Caracas from an international tour.

Besides meeting Pope Francis, Maduro pushed leaders in the Middle East to cut oil output in hopes of raising prices.

He also made an unscheduled stop in Portugal to meet future UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, according to Venezuela’s communications minister.

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