Turmoil looms over Venezuela constitution rewrite

AFP-JijiCARACAS (AFP-Jiji) — Pro- and anti-government groups are battling fiercely for public support over a contested plan by President Nicolas Maduro to have a new body elected this month to rewrite the constitution.

The opposition, energized by the release from jail of one of its emblematic leaders, Leopoldo Lopez, is leading the charge against the new assembly to be chosen in a July 30 election.

On Monday it organized a demonstration in Caracas, during which dozens of protesters and some security force personnel confronting them were injured.

On Sunday, the opposition is to hold its own symbolic public vote on whether the new constitutional assembly should be established.

“This population has decided to continue the fight for liberty,” one opposition lawmaker taking part, Freddy Guevara, said. “Sunday will be the biggest act of civil disobedience in Venezuela’s history.”

With Maduro determined to see through the process — which critics view as a way for him to bypass the opposition-led parliament — there are fears of more violence in the streets. Since April 1, more than 90 people have been killed during protests.

The Venezuelan president, who rules over a once flush oil-rich nation reduced to penury, has been accused by the influential Catholic Church of turning the country into a “military dictatorship.”

However Russian President Vladimir Putin, a longtime ally, on Monday praised Maduro in a telephone call for “his efforts in maintaining stability and peace in the country,” according to a Venezuelan foreign ministry statement.

Putin also endorsed Maduro’s allegations that he was the victim of a foreign plot to topple him, the statement said.

Campaigning for Venezuela’s controversial constitutional assembly is to end on July 27.

The opposition coalition has said it will not field any candidates in the election it denounces as a “fraud.”Speech

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