By Agence France Presse
Venezuela’s opposition called for a nationwide strike for Thursday to press President Nicolas Maduro to back off a rewriting of the constitution, ratcheting up tensions after an unofficial vote rejecting Maduro’s plan and amid months of deadly protests.
The strike call, issued on Monday, was part of what the opposition called a “final offensive” aimed at forcing Maduro out through early elections before his term ends in 2019.
On Sunday, in an event organized by the opposition, more than a third of Venezuela’s 19 million voters rejected Maduro’s bid to have a citizens’ body called a “Constituent Assembly” elected on July 30 to redraft the constitution.
Several countries lauded the balloting. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday it sent an “unmistakable statement” to Maduro and his government.
The EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said that Maduro should suspend his plan, or he “risks further polarizing the country and increasing confrontation.”
However Maduro and his government, backed by a loyal military, have dug in against the opposition tactics and the international criticism.
Despite growing public anger at food and medicine shortages under a spiralling economic crisis that has fed into the opposition movement, authorities in Caracas portray the efforts against them as illegitimate and the result of interference from the “imperialist” United States.
“We are calling all the country to take part in a massive and violence-free protest through a nationwide civic strike for 24 hours,” said one leader in the opposition coalition, Freddy Guevara.
He said the stoppage was a “mechanism for pressure and to prepare for the definitive escalation to take place next week.”
There were fears, however, that the stepped-up confrontation could worsen violence in Venezuela’s streets. Since April, when anti-Maduro protests and police pushback turned bloody, 96 people have died.
The opposition set the scene for the strike with its vote Sunday, which it called a “plebiscite” but which the government dismissed as “illegal.”
Electoral authorities, who have systematically sided with Maduro against the opposition-controlled legislature, denied authorization for the balloting.