CARACAS May 3 Venezuelan opposition supporters
gathered on Wednesday to march down Caracas' main thoroughfare
to protest leftist President Nicolas Maduro's creation of a
powerful assembly, which it views as a ruse to dodge free
elections so he can remain in office.
Building on over a month of large and sustained protests,
opposition leaders have vowed more street action after Maduro's
announcement on Monday that he was creating a "constituent
assembly" empowered to rewrite the constitution.
The government says protest-related violence and the
opposition's unwillingness to hold talks with officials left
Maduro with no choice but shake up Venezuela's governing
The opposition wants to bring forward the 2018 presidential
vote amid a devastating economic crisis. It says Maduro's
announcement is a cynical ploy to confuse citizens into thinking
he has made concessions when in fact he is seeking to tweak the
system to avoid elections the Socialist Party would likely lose.
"This constituent assembly seeks to impose a Cuban electoral
model," said opposition lawmaker Jorge Millan.
"We Venezuelans are not going to allow fraud," he added.
Wednesday's march was planned for the Francisco Fajardo
highway, the city's main thoroughfare. Running through Caracas'
main valley, it links the eastern, central and western parts of
Maduro's move has drawn condemnation from the United States
and some Latin American countries, including regional powerhouse
Brazil that labeled it a "coup."
An influential group of U.S. senators will file sweeping
legislation later on Wednesday to address the crisis in
Venezuela, including sanctioning individuals responsible for
undermining democracy or involved in corruption, Reuters
But Maduro has received backing from regional leftist allies
including Cuba. Bolivia's President Evo Morales said Venezuela
had the right to "decide its future... without external
Maduro was to meet later on Wednesday with election
officials, where more details of the process were expected.
Maduro has already said the 500 members of the constituent
assembly would be elected by social groups including workers,
indigenous people, and farmers, as well as on a municipal level.
GOVERNMENT BLAMES "TERRORISTS"
At least 33 people have been killed, more than 400 people
injured and over 1,000 arrested since the anti-Maduro unrest
began in early April. There were four additional deaths on
Tuesday, officials said.
Two people died when a vehicle tried to avoid a protester
barricade in the state of Carabobo, Venezuela's Civil Protection
agency tweeted late on Tuesday.
Angel Moreira, 28, who was on a motorbike on a highway
leading out of Caracas, also died after a vehicle ran him over
while trying to avoid a demonstration, the state prosecutor's
office said on Wednesday.
In addition, the office said Yonathan Quintero, 21, had been
killed while a group was "damaging" a business after a protest
in the Carabobo state capital of Valencia.
The opposition says heavy-handed security forces and armed
government supporters are trying to scare protesters from taking
to the streets in violent Venezuela, awash with guns and home to
one of the world's highest murder rates.
Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader elected to
replace the late Hugo Chavez in 2013, retorts thuggish
protesters are fanning violence and vandalism.
Typically at protests, thousands rally peacefully but are
then blocked from marching, often with teargas, to government
buildings. At that point, masked youths appear throwing stones
and Molotov cocktails at lines of police and National Guard
Energy Minister Luis Motta said late on Tuesday "a
right-wing terrorist plan to paralyze the country" had cut a
submarine cable that provided electricity to the palm
tree-studded Caribbean island of Margarita, plunging it into
The president of state oil company PDVSA, Eulogio Del Pino,
said "terrorists" had captured a company tanker truck in the
western state of Lara, tweeting pictures of it in flames.
The opposition scoffs that an inept government blames Maduro
critics as a smokescreen for rampant crime and lack of
maintenance that have Venezuela's infrastructure creaking.
(Additional reporting by Andreina Aponte and Eyanir Chinea;
Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and W Simon)