• Maduro opponents tighten screws with Venezuela strike


    CARACAS: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro faces renewed pressure Friday as the opposition calls for a nationwide strike, which he has threatened to break with army takeovers of paralyzed firms.

    Up in arms over the authorities’ decision to block a referendum on removing Maduro from power, the opposition has declared a 12-hour general strike, threatening to exacerbate the shortages of food and basic goods gripping the country.

    “This is a call to a citizens’ strike for the people: to leave streets and workplaces empty… to pressure the government to obey the constitution and respect our right to choose,” the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) said in a statement.

    The strike is scheduled to start at 6:00 am (1000 GMT).

    The center-right coalition’s latest move to pressure the unpopular leftist leader comes after anti-government protests drew hundreds of thousands of people on Wednesday.

    Maduro has vowed to respond forcefully.

    “If a company stops, it will be taken over,” he said Thursday in a televised speech.

    He also extended a carrot to the struggling workers who have served as his socialist party’s traditional base: a 40 percent increase in the minimum wage, to the equivalent of about $140 a month.

    But economic analysts called that a drop in the bucket for a country the International Monetary Fund says is facing inflation of 475 percent this year, rising to 1,660 percent next year.

    And a wage hike may only add fuel to the inflationary fire.

    ‘Attack’ on presidency

    Although Venezuela boasts the world’s largest oil reserves, falling crude prices have plunged the country into an economic crisis.

    That has coincided with a messy political crisis ever since the opposition won a majority in the National Assembly last December.

    The election setback has forced the president to share power with an opposition legislature for the first time since Maduro’s predecessor and mentor, the late socialist firebrand Hugo Chavez, came to power in 1999.

    Maduro accuses the National Assembly of staging a “parliamentary coup” by voting to put him on trial for alleged breach of duty.

    The opposition says it is Maduro who is staging a coup d’etat by blocking a referendum.

    Fears of violent unrest are mounting in the country, where rioting at anti-government protests killed 43 people in 2014.

    Army strike inspections

    The opposition has vowed to march next week on the presidential palace, the scene of a short-lived opposition coup attempt against Chavez in 2002.

    Army chief Vladimir Padrino has declared loyalty to Maduro, vowing to defend the socialist government “with (his) life.”

    The army will inspect some 700 companies Friday to see whether they observe the strike, Maduro said.

    He wants to address the crisis in a “national dialogue” with opponents from Sunday, a plan he says is backed by Pope Francis.

    The MUD said it would agree to talks only if the government respects the constitutional right to a referendum and frees imprisoned activists and leaders, among other demands.

    Maduro has vowed to travel to the Caribbean island of Margarita, where he has proposed starting talks on Sunday.

    But it is unclear whether he will have anyone to talk to. The opposition insists that any talks be held in Caracas, “in the public eye.” AFP





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