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Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro sparked outrage in his crisis-hit country after he was filmed eating in an upscale steak restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey.

The video shows Turkish celebrity chef Nusret Gokce, also known as “Salt Bae” carving meat in front of President Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, at Gokce’s Nusr-Et restaurant in Istanbul.

Almost two-thirds of Venezuelans have reported losing weight as shortages of food worsened in recent years.

Red meat is especially scarce.

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Chef Nusret Gokce posted three videos of Nicolas Maduro’s visit on Instagram, but has since deleted them.

The chef, who has been dubbed Salt Bae for his stylized way of sprinkling salt on his meat, is seen carving meat in front of the couple with dramatic flair.

President Maduro can be heard saying: “This is a once in a lifetime moment.”

Other videos show President Maduro smoking a cigar taken from a box with his name engraved on a plaque, and his wife holding up a T-shirt with the chef’s image.

Nusret Gokce owns several luxurious restaurants in the US, the Middle East and Turkey, and videos of him carving meat have been watched by millions of people.

The chef’s restaurants sell some cuts of meat for several hundred dollars.

Nicolas Maduro and his wife were in Istanbul on a stop-over from China, where the president was trying to drum up investment.

The videos were shared widely by critics of Nicolas Maduro.

Opposition leader Julio Borges, who is living outside Venezuela for fear of arrest, tweeted: “While Venezuelans suffer and die of hunger, Nicolás Maduro and Cilia Flores have a good time in one of the most expensive restaurants in the world, all with money stolen from the Venezuelan people.”

In Venezuela, 64% of people have reported losing significant amounts of weight, 24lbs on average, amid worsening food shortages.

Child malnutrition is at record levels and 2.3 million people have left Venezuela since 2014.

Nicolas Maduro spoke about the now-controversial lunch during a TV news conference, confirming that he had eaten there during his stopover from China.

He said: “Nusret attended to us personally. We were chatting, having a good time with him.”

President Maduro also said that chef Nusret Gokce had told him that “he loves Venezuela”. The chef has not commented.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has said the country’s subsidized fuel prices should rise, to stop smugglers cheating the country out of billions of dollars.

He said in a TV address: “Gasoline must be sold at an international price to stop smuggling to Colombia and the Caribbean.”

Like many oil producing nations, Venezuela offers its citizens heavily subsidized petrol.

A fuel price rise in 1989 caused deadly riots in Caracas.

The country’s economy is in freefall, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicting inflation rates will reach a million percent this year – but the price of fuel has barely changed.

Image source Wikimedia

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The price of a liter of petrol in Venezuela currently stands at 1 bolivar. On the black market, Venezuelans pay more than 4 million bolivares for one US dollar.

That means that for the equivalent of one dollar, Venezuelans can fill the tank of a medium-sized car about 720 times.

Smuggling the subsidized fuel from Venezuela into neighboring countries, where prices are much higher, is big business.

According to government figures, Venezuela loses $18 billion to fuel smuggling annually. President Maduro says adapting Venezuelan fuel prices to international levels will stamp out smuggling.

The move is part of a wider plan to increase government revenue in the face of falling oil production, the country’s main export income.

According to President Maduro “only those individuals who don’t answer the call to register will have to pay fuel at international prices”.

He said that all Venezuelans who hold the “Fatherland ID”, a government-issued identity card introduced by his administration in 2017, will continue to receive “direct subsidies” for “about two years”.

However, many Venezuelans opposed to Bicolas Maduro’s government have refused to get the ID cards, alleging they are used by officials to keep tabs on them.

President Maduro introduced the new ID card in January 2017 arguing it would serve to make his socialist government’s social programs more effective.

The price rise is therefore expected to hit opponents of President Maduro in greater numbers than those who support him.

Nicolas Maduro said he would announce further details of how the new subsidies scheme would work in the coming days. It is expected to come into effect on August 20.

Nicolas Maduro has won another six-year term as Venezuela’s president, in a vote marred by an opposition boycott and claims of vote-rigging.

Just 46% of the electorate turned out to vote amid food shortages stemming from a severe economic crisis.

The main opposition candidate, Henri Falcón, rejected the result soon after the polls closed.

He said: “We do not recognize this electoral process as valid… we have to have new elections in Venezuela.”

With more than 90% of the votes counted, Nicolas Maduro, 55, had 67.7% – 5.8 million votes – National Electoral Council chief Tibisay Lucena announced. Henri Falcón won 21.2% – 1.8 million votes – she said.

Nicolas Maduro told cheering supporters outside his presidential palace in Caracas, as fireworks went off and confetti was fired in the air: “They underestimated me.”

Henri Falcón has alleged that the vote was rigged in Nicolas Maduro’s favor, by abuse of the scanning of state-issued benefits cards used for accessing food.

Image source Wikimedia

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According to government officials, the polls were “free and fair” but most of the opposition joined a boycott against the poll.

The Trump administration said it would not recognize the result. Tweeting ahead of the vote, the US mission to the UN called the process an “insult to democracy”.

Venezuela’s presidential elections were supposed to be held in December 2018, but the National Constituent Assembly, made up exclusively of Nicolas Maduro’s supporters, brought them forward.

The opposition Democratic Unity coalition said the elections were moved to take advantage of divisions within the coalition. Its two biggest candidates were also barred from running, and others have fled the country.

There were a handful of minor candidates but only Henri Falcón, a governor under the late President Hugo Chávez, was seen as a viable alternative to Nicolas Maduro. Henri Falcon came from the same socialist party as President Maduro, but left in 2010 to join the opposition.

Henri Falcón, who ran despite the boycott, has said he believes the majority of Venezuelans want to remove Nicolas Maduro from office.

The rest of the opposition, however, has frowned on his breaking ranks – with some even branding him a traitor.

Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly has ordered fresh presidential elections before the end of April.

President Nicolas Maduro told thousands of his supporters at a rally that he is ready to seek another six-year term.

He said: “It’s the right decision. Imperialism and the right were plotting to take over the economy.”

The opposition is weakened and divided and many of Nicolas Maduro’s main potential challengers are in self-imposed exile or in jail.

However, former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said the government was so unpopular that it could lose the vote.

He tweeted, urging the opposition to unite to save democracy: “The government and its leaders annoy the majority of Venezuelans.”

Henrique Capriles cannot stand in the presidential vote as he was banned from public office for 15 years in April for mismanaging public funds as governor of Miranda state.

He denies any wrongdoing and says the charges were politically motivated.

Image source Wikipedia

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Nicolas Maduro said the presidential poll would go ahead “with or without the opposition”.

Meanwhile, the former speaker of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, said the decision to call an early vote was in retaliation against recent EU sanctions against senior government officials.

Henry Ramos Allup accused the government of usurping the people’s legitimate power with the creation of the Constituent Assembly which effectively bypassed the National Assembly.

The election for the Constituent Assembly was boycotted by the opposition.

The country has for several years struggled with shortages of basic items, including food staples and medication.

President Maduro says foreign nations, and especially the US and Spain, are leading a campaign to bring down Venezuela’s socialist government.

The opposition blames corruption and the policies of the Socialist Party, which has been in power since 1999, for rampant violence and the collapse of the economy.

Nicolas Maduro was elected in April 2013 to succeed his mentor, the late Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer.

The president has urged Venezuela’s National Electoral Council to “fix the earliest possible date” to hold the poll.

Nicolas Maduro told his supporters in Caracas: “Let’s get over with this, win the president poll and put an end to the imperialist threat.

“It it was for me, the election would be held next Sunday.”

Brazil has expelled Venezuela’s charge d’affaires Gerardo Delgado.

It came days after Venezuela’s decision to expel the Brazilian ambassador to Caracas, Ruy Pereira.

Venezuela said Brazil had acted illegally in impeaching its former left-wing president, Dilma Rousseff.

On December 23, Venezuela also expelled Canada’s charge d’affaires, accusing him of interfering in internal affairs.

On December 25, Canada announced that Venezuela’s Ambassador Wilmer Barrientos Fernández, who was already abroad, would not be allowed to return.

Venezuela’s charge d’affaires in Ottawa, Ángel Herrera, was also asked to leave.

Relations with Brazil have deteriorated since President Michel Temer took office in 2016, following Dilma Rousseff’s dismissal by Congress for fiscal irregularities.

Image source Wikimedia

Canada Expels Venezuela’s Ambassador and Charge D’Affaires

Venezuela Expels Brazilian Ambassador and Canadian Charge D’Affaires

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro described her impeachment as “a right-wing coup”.

On December 23, the head of Venezuela’s powerful Constituent Assembly, Delcy Rodriguez, said that “diplomatic relations with Brazil will not be restored until the government reinstates the constitutional order it has effectively broken”.

The Brazilian government said the move showed “once again the authoritarian nature of President Maduro’s administration”.

Brazil and Canada have both become outspoken critics of President Maduro.

They accuse Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government of harassing the opposition and violating human rights.

Canada imposed sanctions on senior Venezuelan officials a few months ago.

Brazil and Canada were among many countries critical of President Maduro’s decision to convene a Constituent Assembly, which effectively replaced the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

The announcement prompted mass street protests, which killed more than 120 people in four months.

Venezuela’s opposition boycotted the poll in July and also held an unofficial referendum in which they said more than seven million Venezuelans had voted against the constituent assembly.

Nicolas Maduro’s six-year term ends in 2019. He is due to run for re-election in 2018.

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Canada has expelled Venezuela’s ambassador to Ottawa, Wilmer Barrientos Fernández, and its charge d’affaires, Ángel Herrera.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said the move was in retaliation for the expulsion of its ambassador to Caracas over the weekend.

Venezuela had accused Canada of meddling in its internal affairs.

In response, Canada has criticized the government of President Nicolás Maduro over its human rights record.

More than 120 people were killed in Venezuela during months of anti-government protests earlier this year.

Image source misionvenezuela.org

Chrystia Freeland in a statement: “Canadians will not stand by as the Government of Venezuela robs its people of their fundamental democratic and human rights, and denies them access to basic humanitarian assistance.”

“We will continue to work with our partners in the region to apply pressure on the anti-democratic Maduro regime and restore the rights of the Venezuelan people.”

She said Wilmer Barrientos Fernández was already abroad and would not be allowed to return, while Ángel Herrera had been asked to leave.

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Canada had already imposed sanctions on senior Venezuelan officials in a move which angered the Venezuelan government.

On December 23, the head of Venezuela’s powerful Constituent Assembly, Delcy Rodríguez, announced Venezuela was declaring Canada’s charge d’affaires to Caracas, Craig Kowalik, persona non grata.

Delcy Rodríguez accused Craig Kowalik of “permanent and insistent, rude and vulgar interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela”.

Venezuela also expelled the Brazilian ambassador, Ruy Pereira, over the alleged violation of the rule of law by its government.

The US imposed sanctions on Nicolas Maduro and the Trump administration labeled the Venezuelan president a “dictator”.

The opposition has accused Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, of destroying the country’s economy with their socialist policies.

Venezuela has one of the world’s highest inflation rates and for years has suffered from a shortage of basic goods, including medicines.

Nicolas Maduro’s six-year term ends in 2019. He is expected to stand for another term in elections scheduled for 2018.

Brazilian Ambassador to Caracas Ruy Pereira and Canadian charge d’affaires Craig Kowalik have been expelled by Venezuela’s powerful Constituent Assembly.

The move was announced by the Constituent Assembly President Delcy Rodriguez.

Delcy Rodriguez accused Brazil of violating the rule of law and Canada of interfering in Venezuela’s internal affairs.

Both countries have strongly criticized the move.

The decision to expel Ambassador Ruy Pereira may have been triggered by Brazil’s recent complaint that President Nicolás Maduro was “constantly harassing the opposition”.

Canada imposed sanctions on senior Venezuelan officials a few months ago.

Venezuela’s diplomatic relations with Brazil have deteriorated since Brazil’s President Michel Temer replaced left-wing leader Dilma Rousseff.

Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment was described by Nicolas Maduro as a “right-wing coup”.

Image source Wikimedia

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Delcy Rodriguez said at a news conference on December 23: “Diplomatic relations with Brazil will not be restored until the government reinstates the constitutional order it has effectively broken.”

In response, the Brazilian government said the move showed once again the authoritarian nature of President Maduro’s administration.

Delcy Rodriguez accused Craig Kowalik of “permanent and insistent, rude and vulgar interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela”.

Relations with Canada have been difficult for months. Earlier this year, Ottawa imposed sanctions on Venezuelan officials for alleged human rights violations and corruption.

Last month, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said that the sanctions were illegal and accused the Canadian government of “shameful and utter submission to Donald Trump’s administration”.

In response, Canada said to the expulsion of its charge d’affaires by saying it would not be cowed into easing pressure on the Maduro government.

Brazil and Canada were among many countries critical of President Maduro’s decision to convene a Constituent Assembly, which effectively replaced the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

The announcement prompted mass street protests, which killed more than 120 people in four months.

The opposition boycotted the poll in July and also held an unofficial referendum in which they said more than seven million Venezuelans voted against the constituent assembly.

The EU and major Latin American nations have said they will not recognize the new body.

Meanwhile, the US imposed sanctions on President Maduro and the Trump administration labeled him a “dictator”.

Nicolas Maduro’s six-year term ends in 2019. He is due to run for re-election next year.

The opposition has accused President Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, of destroying Venezuela’s economy with their socialist policies.

Venezuela has one of the world’s highest inflation rates and for years has suffered from a shortage of basic goods, including medicines.

Venezuela’s main opposition parties are banned from taking part in 2018 presidential election, President Nicolas Maduro has announced.

The president said only parties which took part in December 10 mayoral polls would be able to contest the presidency.

Opposition leaders from the Justice First, Popular Will and Democratic Action parties boycotted the vote because they said the electoral system was biased.

Nicolas Maduro insists the Venezuelan system is entirely trustworthy.

In a speech on local polls day, he said the opposition parties had “disappeared from the political map”.

“A party that has not participated today and has called for the boycott of the elections can’t participate anymore,” he said.

Two months ago, the three main opposition parties announced they would be boycotting December 10 vote, saying it only served what they called President Nicolas Maduro’s dictatorship.

Image source Wikimedia

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Nicolas Maduro says his party won more than 300 of the 335 mayoral races being contested. The election board put turn out at 47%.

Venezuela has been mired in a worsening economic crisis characterized by shortages of basic goods and soaring inflation.

Presiedent Maduro said he was following the criteria set by the National Constituent Assembly in banning opposition parties from contesting next year’s election.

However, the assembly, which came into force in August and has the ability to rewrite the constitution, is made up exclusively of government loyalists. Opposition parties see it as a way for the president to cling to power.

The presidential vote had been scheduled for December 2018, but analysts say it could now be brought forward.

Venezuela has a population of more than 30 million people. It has some of the world’s largest oil deposits as well as huge quantities of coal and iron ore.

Despite its rich natural resources many Venezuelans live in poverty. This led President Nicolas Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, to style himself as a champion of the poor during his 14 years in office.

Now the country is starkly divided between supporters of President Nicolas Maduro and those who want an end to the Socialist Party’s 18 years in government.

Nicolas Maduro supporters say his party has lifted many people out of poverty, but critics say it has eroded Venezuela’s democratic institutions and mismanaged its economy.

Henrique Capriles, one of Venezuela’s opposition leading members, has announced he was leaving the coalition.

The former presidential candidate said the move was in protest at the decision by four newly elected opposition governors to pledge allegiance to the constituent assembly.

The Roundtable for Democracy (MUD) regards the constituent assembly as illegitimate.

The MUD governors were elected in regional polls this month in which the government won 18 out of 23 states.

The outcome of the October 15 elections, which the MUD said were fraudulent – and President Nicolas Maduro’s insistence that all new governors bow to the constituent assembly – has caused a rift among members of the opposition coalition.

Image source Flickr

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On October 24, Henrique Capriles said that he “would not be part” of the opposition MUD “because it is not unity as a concept or a vision”.

“It is just some people that grab the bones that are thrown to them,” he said.

Five MUD governors who won seats opted to boycott a previous event in which 18 newly elected socialist governors were sworn in to the constituent assembly.

However, four of them – the governors for Táchira, Mérida, Nuevo Esparta and Anzoátegui – later changed their stance and pledged allegiance, defying their coalition’s official position.

President Maduro, who has described the election result as a victory, said governors who refused to be sworn in by the constituent assembly would not be allowed to take up office.

The MUD have published what they say is evidence of fraud in the state of Bolívar, where the government candidate was declared the winner after a two-day delay.

According to Venezuela’s electoral authority, the governing Socialist Party has won 17 of 23 state governorships in a crushing victory.

Socialist President Nicolás Maduro hailed it as a victory for Chavismo, his party’s brand of socialism named after former president Hugo Chávez.

However, opposition leaders alleged fraud.

The Democratic Union Roundtable coalition has refused to recognize the result and demanded a complete audit, campaign director Gerardo Blyde said.

Gerardo Blyde said that “neither Venezuelans nor the world will swallow this fiction”.

Image source Wikimedia

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The results were announced by the president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena. The CNE is dominated by government loyalists and has been accused of pro-government bias by the opposition.

The council came under fire earlier this year when the company providing the voting systems for July’s elections for the constituent assembly said the turn-out figures for that poll had been manipulated.

The CNE dismissed those allegations and used a different company for October 15 vote.

President Nicolas Maduro praised the results as proof that Venezuela has “the best electoral system in the world” and opposition leaders have called for street protests to be held on October 16.

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Venezuela’s controversial constituent assembly has unanimously voted to put opposition leaders on trial for treason.

It said it would pursue those it accuses of supporting US economic sanctions against Venezuela.

The US approved the measures last week in response to what it called the “dictatorship” of President Nicolás Maduro.

Nicolás Maduro has accused the US of trying to cripple Venezuela’s economy amid an ongoing economic crisis.

On August 25, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to ban trade in Venezuelan debt or the sale of bonds from its state oil company.

The president’s reasons included “serious abuses of human rights” as well as the creation of the “illegitimate” constituent assembly, which the US accuses of usurping the democratically elected parliament.

Image source Wikipedia

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The constituent assembly, which was convened by President Nicolás Maduro and is made up of government supporters, has been condemned by international leaders as unconstitutional.

On August 29, members of the assembly unanimously approved a decree calling for the investigation of “traitors” who supported the economic sanctions.

During the three-hour session, they took turns denouncing those who have been critical of the government in ever more colorful language.

Among those they attacked for allegedly being “engaged in the promotion of these immoral actions against the interests of the Venezuelan people” were not only members of opposition parties but also former supporters of the socialist government.

The sacked chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, who over the past months has become one of the most vocal critics of the government, came in for particular vitriol.

Constituent assembly member Iris Varela called Luisa Ortega “scum”. She also said that Luisa Ortega “crawled like a worm” and “sold her homeland for a few dollars she stole from this country”.

Luisa Ortega was fired by the constituent assembly in its first session earlier this month and replaced by a loyal government supporter, Tarek William Saab.

She has since traveled to a number of Latin American countries denouncing alleged government corruption in Venezuela.

The head of the opposition-controlled parliament, Julio Borges, was named as “one of the real enemies of Venezuela” for asking US bank Goldman Sachs to stop buying Venezuelan bonds.

Julio Borges reacted by saying that it was time the government stopped looking for others to blame for Venezuela’s economic and political crisis.

“The only one responsible is Maduro and it’s time he takes a look in the mirror and accepts he has ruined Venezuela,” Julio Borges told reporters.

Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel has confirmed that his US tour with Venezuela’s National Youth Orchestra has been canceled.

The star conductor said the cancelation, which came just days after President Nicolás Maduro publicly criticized him, was “heartbreaking”.

In May, Gustavo Dudamel spoke out against President Maduro’s government.

President Maduro replied: “May God forgive you for letting yourself be fooled.”

Gustavo Dudamel, 36, is the music director of both the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela.

He gained further fame by becoming the youngest musician to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic’s annual New Year’s concert in 2017.

Gustavo Dudamel had stayed silent on the politics of his homeland until the beginning of May, when after a month of anti-government protests, he called on the government “to listen to the people”.

As the political crisis in Venezuela worsened, Gustavo Dudamel spoke out again in July, this time in opinion pieces published in the New York Times and Spanish daily El País criticizing the constituent assembly the president had convened.

Image source Wikimedia

On August 18, President Nicolas Maduro responded: “Welcome to politics, Gustavo Dudamel, but act with ethics, and don’t let yourself be deceived into attacking the architects of this beautiful movement of young boys and girls.”

The president referred to the young musicians which form part of Venezuela’s praised musical education program, El Sistema.

Nicolas Maduro also had a dig at the conductor for living abroad: “I don’t live abroad, true. None of us lives abroad, in Madrid or in Los Angeles.

“Where do we live? In Venezuela and we have to work for the Venezuelans.”

On August 21, three days after that public criticism, Venezuelan media reported that the US tour of Venezuela’s National Youth Orchestra under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel had been canceled by the president’s office.

On August 22, Gustavo Dudamel confirmed the reports on Twitter, saying: Heart-breaking cancellation of our 4-city NYOV US tour.”

No reason for the cancelation of the tour has been given so far.

Some Venezuelan media speculated that the tour was canceled “in revenge” for Gustavo Dudamel speaking out against the government but others pointed out the high cost of transporting the young musicians to the US at a time when the Venezuelan government is running low on foreign currency reserves.

President Maduro is also an outspoken critic of “the imperialist US”, which he blames for many of Venezuela’s problems.

Tensions between Venezuela and the US have risen further this month after President Trump said he did not rule out a military option in dealing with Venezuela’s crisis.

One hundred and eighty young musicians had been rehearsing for three months for the four-city US tour scheduled for September.

Venezuela’s new constituent assembly has overwhelmingly voted in favor of assuming the powers of the opposition-led parliament.

However, parliament has rejected the move. President Nicolas Maduro says the new assembly will end political unrest, but many say it is a slide towards dictatorship.

Meanwhile Colombia says Venezuela’s chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz has arrived in the capital Bogota.

Luisa Ortega Diaz said she feared for her life after being dismissed by the controversial assembly.

Once a staunch supporter of Nicolas Maduro, Luisa Ortega had become a strong critic of the president’s socialist government in recent months.

The former chief prosecutor’s whereabouts had been unknown following her dismissal on August 5.

On August 18, Luisa Ortega told a regional conference via videolink that she had evidence that President Maduro was embroiled in a corruption scandal involving the Brazilian construction company, Odebrecht.

Odebrecht has admitted paying bribes to win contracts in 12 countries, though no Venezuelans have been named.

Image source Wikipedia

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Venezuela’s parliament said citizens and the international community would not recognize the constituent assembly’s new powers.

The head of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro called the move an “illegitimate dissolution” of the elected parliament.

Regional economic bloc Mercosur – which includes the region’s two biggest economies Brazil and Argentina – also condemned the move.

Earlier this month, Mercosur suspended Venezuela indefinitely, urging President Maduro to release prisoners and begin a political transition.

The heads of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled parliament and the new assembly have been trading insults on social media.

Parliament head Julio Borges accused the constituent assembly of a “coup” while new assembly head Delcy Rodriguez – a close ally of President Maduro – denounced his “lies”.

President Maduro’s wife and son are among the 545 members of the new assembly, which was set up following a controversial election earlier this month.

More than 120 people have been killed in Venezuela’s violent protests since April.

Nicolas Maduro’s opponents want to hold a vote to remove him, blaming his left-wing administration for food shortages and soaring inflation in the oil-rich country.

Constituent assemblies are set up for the specific purpose of drafting or adopting a constitution, and as such can fundamentally change how a country is run.

Venezuela has seen waves of violent protests, and President Maduro presented the assembly as a way of promoting “reconciliation and peace”.

An ally of Nicolas Maduro, former foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez, is president of the new body

The election for the constituent assembly was marred by violence and accusations of fraud.

Venezuela’s electoral authorities said more than eight million people, or 41.5% of the electorate, had voted, a figure the company that provided the voting system said was inflated.

The opposition boycotted the poll and also held an unofficial referendum in which they said more than seven million Venezuelans voted against the constituent assembly.

The US has imposed sanctions on Presidnet Maduro, with the Trump administration calling him a “dictator”.

The EU and major Latin American nations say they will not recognize the new body.

Nicolas Maduro retains a major ally in Russia, however, and has the support of several left-wing nations in the Americas.

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President Donald Trump has announced he is not ruling out a military option in dealing with the crisis in Venezuela.

The president said: “The people are suffering and they are dying.”

Venezuela’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said President Trump’s suggestion was “an act of craziness”.

President Nicolas Maduro’s new constituent assembly has been widely criticized as anti-democratic. The US recently imposed sanctions on Nicolas Maduro, branding him a dictator.

President Trump told reporters on August 11: “We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary.

“We have troops all over the world in places that are very far away. Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering and they’re dying.”

The White House later said that President Maduro had requested a phone call with President Trump.

In response, the White House said President Trump would gladly speak to his Venezuelan counterpart, when democracy had been restored in the country.

Image source NBC

Venezuela Government Websites Hacked

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Regional pressure on the Venezuelan government has continued, with Peru ordering the expulsion of the Venezuelan ambassador from Lima after Caracas sent an “unacceptable” response to regional condemnation of its new constituent assembly.

Ambassador Diego Molero has five days to leave Peru, officials say.

The move by Peru’s foreign ministry, announced in a statement on Twitter, follows the condemnation by 11 other major countries in the Americas of Venezuela’s controversial constituent assembly.

The new body has the ability to rewrite the constitution and could override the opposition-controlled parliament, the National Assembly.

In a separate development, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a fierce critic of Nicolas Maduro, has urged him to resign, saying he lost any credibility after the election of the new body.

Pablo Kuczynski told Reuters: “He’s a dictator and has carried out a coup through a fraudulent election to eliminate Congress.”

The Peruvian president also rejected an offer from Presidnet Maduro to meet face-to-face.

The Venezuelan opposition, which boycotted the election for the constituent assembly, accuses Nicolas Maduro of trying to cling on to power, which he denies.

Nicolas Maduro has repeatedly said that the new assembly would bring peace to Venezuela.

Violent demonstrations since April have left more than 120 people dead in Venezuela.

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Venezuela’s government websites have been hacked in an operation targeting the “dictatorship” of President Nicolás Maduro.

Calling itself “The Binary Guardians”, the hacking group posted messages appearing to support the actions of a group of armed civilians who attacked a military base in the central city of Valencia on August 6.

Meanwhile, President Maduro’s supporters marched in the capital Caracas.

They called for an end to months of opposition protests and unrest.

Image source teleSUR

More than 100 people have died in the protests against the failing economy and what the opposition sees as the government’s illegal attempts to cling to power.

The hacked sites included the Venezuelan government, the National Electoral Council and the Venezuelan navy.

A message on the main government site made reference to “Operation David”, which Venezuelan media had reported was the codename of the attack in Valencia.

“This dictatorship has its days numbered,” the message added.

The government said it had repelled the attack in Valencia, which was carried out by a group of armed civilians led by a military deserter.

A search was under way for 10 men who escaped with weapons after the attack, President Maduro said.

The assault in the north-western city of Valencia was carried out by 20 people, he said. Two were killed, one was injured and seven were arrested.

Earlier, a video posted on social media showed uniformed men saying they were rising against a “murderous tyranny”.

On state TV, Niclas Maduro congratulated the army for its “immediate reaction” in putting down the attack on August 6, saying they had earned his “admiration.”

The president called the incident a “terrorist attack” carried out by “mercenaries”, and said the security forces were actively searching for those who had escaped.

“We’ll get them,” Nicolas Maduro vowed.

The government said that those arrested included a first lieutenant who had deserted. It said the others were civilians wearing uniforms.

President Maduro said the group had been backed by anti-government leaders based in the US and Colombia.

In August 6 video, a rebel leader who identified himself as Juan Caguaripano, said that his group – which he called the 41st Brigade – was taking a stand against the “murderous tyranny of President Nicolás Maduro”.

“This is not a coup but a civic and military action to re-establish constitutional order.”

Violent demonstrations began in April and have spread across Venezuela which, despite being oil-rich, is experiencing severe shortages of food and medicines, as well as inflation in excess of 700%.

The incident in Valencia came the day after the first session of the newly inaugurated Constituent Assembly, seen by the opposition as a way for the left-wing president to cling to power.

Nicolas Maduro has repeatedly said that the new body will bring peace to Venezuela.

The Constituent Assembly has the ability to rewrite the constitution and could override the opposition-controlled parliament, the National Assembly.

On August 5, it immediately voted to dismiss Chief Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz, a former ally of President Maduro who has become a major critic of his rule.

Venezuela’s chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz says she was dismissed by the new constituent assembly because the government wanted to stop her investigations into alleged corruption and human rights abuses.

Luisa Ortega, a supporter turned critic of President Nicolás Maduro, has rejected her dismissal.

She will face trial for “serious misconduct”, the Supreme Court says.

Meanwhile, one of the opposition leaders, Leopoldo Lopez, has been returned from jail to house arrest.

Leopoldo López was taken from his home on August 1 and spent four days in a military jail.

South American regional bloc Mercosur has suspended Venezuela “indefinitely”, having previously placed it under a temporary ban. It says the country will not be re-admitted until the constituent assembly is scrapped and all political prisoners are released.

Another opponent of the government, Antonio Ledezma, is also back under house arrest after three days in jail last week.

Antinio Ledezma and Leopoldo Lopez had encouraged protests against the constituent assembly, which is dominated by government supporters.

In its first session on August 5, the assembly unanimously voted to remove Luisa Ortega from her post.

She was prevented from entering her office in Caracas by dozens of National Guard officers in riot gear, and left on a motorbike amid chaotic scenes.

In a statement released by the public prosecutor’s office, Luisa Ortega said President Maduro’s government was leading a “coup against the constitution”.

“I do not recognize the decision,” she said of her dismissal.

“[This is] just a tiny example of what’s coming for everyone that dares to oppose this totalitarian form of ruling.”

Image source Wikimedia

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Venezuela: Opposition Leaders Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma Re-Arrested

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Venezuela’s Supreme Court, loyal to Nicolas Maduro, did not give details of the accusations against Luisa Ortega.

Luisa Ortega, who broke ranks with the government in March, had opposed the assembly’s inauguration on August 4, citing allegations of voting fraud.

Tarek William Saab, a supporter of President Nicolas Maduro, has been sworn in as her replacement.

Luisa Ortega’s removal was widely expected but the fact that it was decided on the first working day of the assembly suggested that the new body could take aggressive measures against President Maduro’s critics, correspondents say.

Mexico, Peru and Colombia have condemned Luisa Ortega’s dismissal.

President Maduro says the constituent assembly is needed to bring peace after months of protests sparked by severe economic hardship.

However, the opposition says it is a way for the president to cling to power.

The constituent assembly has the ability to rewrite the constitution, and could override the opposition-controlled parliament, the National Assembly.

Julio Borges, speaker of the National Assembly, said Luisa Ortega’s removal was illegal and showed that the country’s institutions had been “taken hostage by only one hand, only one political party” through “an undemocratic mechanism that is utterly dictatorial.”

Despite being oil-rich, Venezuela is experiencing severe shortages of food and medicines, as well as inflation in excess of 700%. Violent demonstrations since April have left more than 100 people dead.

President Donald Trump has warned that the US holds Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro “personally responsible” for the safety of the seized opposition leaders Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma.

In a statement, President Trump also called for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners.

Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, who had been under house arrest, were taken to a military prison on August 1.

This came after July 30 controversial vote for a constitutional assembly.

At least 10 people were killed, as the opposition boycotted the election.

President Nicolas Maduro said the poll was a “vote for the revolution”, arguing that the move would create peace and foster dialogue by bringing together different sectors of Venezuela’s polarized society.

Venezuela: Opposition Leaders Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma Re-Arrested

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Venezuela: Leopoldo Lopez Jailed for 13 Years and Nine Months

The opposition said on August 1 that it had decided to hold a demonstration against the new assembly on August 3.

Opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara tweeted the rally would be held on “the day the dictatorship plans to install the fraudulent assembly”.

It had originally been thought that the government would open the constituent assembly on Wednesday, thereby evicting the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

In his statement, President Trump said the US condemned the actions of the “Maduro dictatorship”.

Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma were “political prisoners being held illegally by the regime”, he added.

“The United States holds Maduro – who publicly announced just hours earlier that he would move against his political opposition – personally responsible for the health and safety of Mr. López, Mr. Ledezma and any others seized.”

Earlier, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described the re-arrest of Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma as “very alarming”.

“The situation from a humanitarian standpoint is already becoming dire,” he said.

“We are evaluating all of our policy options as to what can we do to create a change of conditions, where either Maduro decides he doesn’t have a future and wants to leave of his own accord, or we can return the government processes back to their constitution.”

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced on July 31 that the US had imposed sanctions on President Maduro.

Leopoldo López was taken from his home at 12:27 local time on August 1, his wife, Lilian Tintori, wrote on Twitter.

A video posted showed Leopoldo López being taken away by members of the Venezuelan intelligence service, Sebin.

The daughter of Antonio Ledezma, Vanessa Ledezma, also posted a video of her father, wearing pajamas, being taken away by the Sebin.

Both Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma were key figures in the wave of protests which swept through Venezuela in 2014 in which 43 people from both sides of the political divide were killed.

They have played a less prominent role in the most recent protests because they have been under house arrest but their video messages still get reported and shared widely on opposition websites.

According to Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE), the turnout in the controversial election for a constituent assembly was 41.5%, a figure disputed by the opposition.

The opposition coalition said 88% of voters abstained and it refused to recognize the election. It also called for more protests on July 31.

July 30 election was marred by violence, with widespread protests and at least 10 people killed.

President Nicolás Maduro hailed the poll as a “vote for the revolution”.

Venezuelans were asked to choose the more than 500 representatives who will make up a constituent assembly.

The constituent assembly was convened by Nicolas Maduro to rewrite the existing constitution, which was drafted and passed in 1999 when his mentor, President Hugo Chávez, was in office.

On July 31, the head of the CNE, Tibisay Lucena, announced that there had been an “extraordinary turnout” of more than eight million voters.

She also announced that President Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, was among those elected as representatives, as well as the president’s close allies Diosdado Cabello, Iris Varela and Delcy Rodríguez.

Image source Wikipedia

The announcement was met with outrage and derision by the opposition, who boycotted the vote.

Opposition politician Henry Ramos Allup said their figures suggested fewer than 2.5 million Venezuelans had turned out to vote.

With the opposition boycotting the election from the start and not fielding any candidates, it was always less about who would be elected and more about how many Venezuelans would take part in the voting.

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Venezuela Crisis: Opposition-Controlled National Assembly Apoints Judges to Supreme Court

The opposition held an unofficial referendum two weeks before the election asking Venezuelans whether they wanted a constituent assembly at all. According to opposition figures, more than seven million Venezuelans rejected the constituent assembly in that vote.

The opposition urged Venezuelans to stay at home and even some Chavistas (supporters of the socialist movement created by President Hugo Chávez and of which Nicolas Maduro is a part) said they objected to the constituent assembly and would not vote.

There were widespread reports of public sector workers being told by their bosses to go and vote or face being sacked.

How many people turned out was therefore seen as a key indicator of support for the government.

The opposition claims that the figures are unverifiable because a number of procedures which have been in place at previous elections were not followed.

For example, voters’ little fingers were not marked with indelible ink to prevent them from trying to vote multiple times.

There were also no independent observers.

However, Tibisay Lucena said voting had proceeded “normally” and that violent outbreaks at a small number of polling stations had been controlled.

Nicolas Maduro convened the constituent assembly on 1 May amid fierce anti-government protests.

The president argued the constituent assembly would promote “reconciliation and peace”, however he did not give details of exactly how rewriting the constitution would achieve such broad aims.

Government critics fear that President Maduro wants to use the constituent assembly to maximize his power and cling on to it for longer.

As the constituent assembly will be drawing up a new constitution it has the potential to fundamentally change how Venezuela is run.

The last time a constituent assembly met in 1999, the legislature was suspended while the constitution was debated.

The opposition has called for fresh protests on July 31.

On July 30, at least 10 people were killed in protests across the country, prompting opposition leader Henrique Capriles to speak of a “massacre”.

Despite a government ban on protests and the threat of jail terms of up to 10 years for anyone disrupting the electoral process, streets were barricaded and a number of polling stations attacked ahead of the vote.

Tensions are likely to increase further on July 31 and ahead of the swearing-in of the constituent assembly members on August 2.

A candidate in Venezuela’s assembly elections and an opposition activist have been killed on July 30.

The killings took place before voting started to elect a new assembly with powers to rewrite the constitution.

The opposition says it is a power grab by President Nicolás Maduro and is boycotting the vote.

Venezeula’s government says the constituent assembly is the only way to bring peace back to the country after months of violent protests.

José Felix Pineda, a 39-year-old lawyer running in the election, was shot in his home on the night before the election day, a senior Venezuelan minister said.

Ricardo Campos, a youth secretary with the opposition Acción Democrática party, was shot dead during a protest, the head of the national assembly said.

A soldier in the National Guard was also killed in protests in the western town of La Grita, officials and media reports said.

Image source Wikipedia

Venezuela Crisis: Opposition-Controlled National Assembly Apoints Judges to Supreme Court

Venezuela Opposition Referendum: Woman Shot Dead in Voting Queuing

Venezuela Opposition Sets Up Roadblocks and Demands Early Elections

The El Nacional newspaper said 13 people had been killed across Venezuela in the past 24 hours.

Protests have continued in defiance of a ban on them taking place. An explosion near one demonstration in Caracas injured several police officers and set a number of their motorbikes on fire.

The security forces have used armored vehicles to dispel protesters in the Caracas district of El Paraíso amid the sound of gunfire, AFP says, citing local reports.

President Maduro cast his own ballot shortly after polling stations opened at 06:00.

In a TV speech, the president predicted a “big victory”, calling the vote “the most important election held in Venezuela’s political system”.

However, electoral council chief Tibisay Lucena acknowledged that some voting machines had been attacked and burned in parts of Venezuela.

Four months of protests against President Maduro and his plans for the assembly have left more than 100 people dead.

The election has been heavily criticized by other Latin American countries as well as the EU and the US, which last week imposed new sanctions on members of President Maduro’s government.

Venezuela, a major oil producer, is gripped by a political crisis, with soaring inflation and daily food shortages.

Many residents in Caracas were stocking up on essential items on July 29 in case unrest left shops closed into July 31, correspondents said.

Puerto Rican stars Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee have lashed out against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, accusing him of using their song, global hit Despacito, for political gains.

President Nicolas Maduro presented an altered version of the song during his weekly TV show on July 23.

The reworked lyrics promoted Nicolas Maduro’s plans for a controversial new citizen’s assembly, which will be elected on July 30 to rewrite the constitution.

The singers branded it an outrage.

Nicolas Maduro was seen clapping along to the remix, as his audience danced.

“Our call to the <Constituent Assembly> only seeks to unite the country … Despacito!” go the new lyrics.

Luis Fonsi responded angrily on social media: “At no point was I asked, nor did I authorize, the use or the change in lyrics of Despacito for political means, and much less so in the middle of the deplorable situation experienced by Venezuela, a country I love so much.

“My music is for all those who want to listen to it and enjoy it, not to be used as propaganda that tries to manipulate the will of a people who are crying out for their freedom.”

Image source YouTube

Daddy Yankee posted a picture of President Maduro with a large red cross over it on Instagram and wrote: “That you illegally appropriate a song [Despacito] does not compare with the crimes you commit and have committed in Venezuela.

“Your dictatorial regime is a joke, not only for my Venezuelan brothers, but for the entire world.”

Despacito translates as “slowly”, referring to the speed of the lead singer’s seduction technique.

However, the Venezuelan version strips back the lyrics.

Instead, the new chorus runs: “Slowly, take your vote rather than weapons, and express your ideas. Always in peace and calm.”

Introducing the new take to an audience of supporters, Nicolas Maduro said a creative group had reworked it and he wanted to put it to the test.

“What do you think, eh?” the president asked the crowd.

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Venezuela has been shaken by often violent protests in recent months, and millions joined a general strike last week.

Some 100 people have died in the unrest, which has further hammered an imploding economy that is running short of food and medicine.

The constituent assembly President Maduro wants to establish would have power to rewrite the constitution and bypass the opposition-controlled legislature.

Critics say the president is trying to cement a dictatorship. He argues it is the only way to bring peace back to the divided nation.

The original Puerto Rican version of Despacito has been a worldwide success, and a version featuring Justin Bieber recently became the most-streamed song of all time.

Another high-profile member of the governing Socialist Party, Diosdado Cabello, also drew on Despacito recently to score political points.

“As the song says, step by step, slowly and suavely, they [the critics] want to create a coup,” he said, according to local media.

A variety of opposition parodies have also gone viral on social media, including one called Madurito.

Another called Bien Flaquito (Very Skinny) played on Venezuela’s food shortages.

Venezuela’s National Assembly has appointed 33 judges to the Supreme Court, prompting accusations of an attempted power grab.

The assembly, which is controlled by the opposition, says it has the right to name and fire justices under Venezuela’s constitution.

However, the Supreme Court, which is largely made up of pro-government members, has described the move as illegal.

The opposition is stepping up pressure on President Nicolas Maduro to call early elections.

President Maduro has refused and is instead going ahead with plans to form a constituent assembly which would have the power to rewrite the constitution and bypass the National Assembly.

The impasse has left the country in a political crisis and scores of people have died in months of anti-government protests.

Following the National Assembly’s announcement, the government said it would not allow serving judges to be unseated.

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Venezuela’s Supreme Court Attacked by Helicopter

Venezuela’s Supreme Court has ordered “civil and military authorities” to carry out “coercive actions” in response to the appointments, but it is unclear what that will entail.

Meanwhile, the opposition Democratic Unity coalition (MUD) has called for protest marches on July 22 from seven points in the capital Caracas to the Supreme Court headquarters.

The opposition says the current justices are illegitimate, having been rushed into their positions shortly before the governing party lost its majority in 2015.

Since the opposition took over the National Assembly last year the court has consistently blocked all bills passed by Congress.

The opposition announced last week that it would appoint new judges and that it would also take the first steps to set up a national unity government. Analysts say such proposals raise the possibility of a parallel state structure.

On July 20, millions of Venezuelans joined a general strike called by the opposition.

At least three people were killed in clashes between police and protesters and there were more than 300 arrests.

Protesters barricaded roads in Caracas and other cities with rubbish and furniture.

The opposition said that 85% of the country joined the strike but President Maduro said its effect was minimal and that its leaders would be arrested.

Meanwhile, Colombia, France, Spain, the US and the EU have urged the Venezuelan government to cancel the vote for a new constituent assembly on July 30.

However, President Nicolas Maduro has rejected the calls.

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More than seven million Venezuelan voters have taken part in an opposition-organized referendum in the country, according to academics monitoring the poll.

The referendum result strongly backed opposition to the socialist government’s proposed constitutional changes.

Venezuela remains polarized between supporters of President Nicolas Maduro and the opposition, which wants fresh elections.

A 61-year-old woman was shot dead while queuing to vote in the capital, Caracas.

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Men on motorbikes opened fire, killing Xiomara Soledad Scott, and wounding three others.

Image source teleSUR

The opposition blamed a “paramilitary” gang for the shooting, which prosecutors said they would investigate.

Separately, journalist Luis Olavarrieta was kidnapped, robbed and beaten by a group, but managed to escape.

More than 100 people have died in clashes and protests in Venezuela since April.

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Cecilia García Arocha, the rector of the Central University of Venezuela, said 6,492,381 people voted within the country and another 693,789 at polling stations abroad. However, the vote has no legal status.

The turnout is slightly less than the 7.7 million people who voted for opposition candidates at the 2015 parliamentary elections. There are 19.5 million registered voters in Venezuela.

Venezuela’s Supreme Court Attacked by Helicopter

Voting Yes or No to three questions, 98% rejected the new assembly proposed by President Nicolas Maduro and backed a call for elections before his term of office ends in 2019.

They also voted for the armed forces to defend the current constitution.

An official vote will be held on July 30 for a new assembly, which would have the power to rewrite the constitution and to dissolve state institutions. However, critics say the new assembly could herald dictatorship.

The July 16 unofficial poll was held in improvised polling stations at theaters, sports grounds and roundabouts within Venezuela and in more than 100 countries around the world.

However, President Maduro described the vote as “meaningless”.

“They have convened an internal consultation with the opposition parties, with their own mechanisms, without electoral rulebooks, without prior verification, without further verification. As if they are autonomous and decide on their own,” he said.

Nicolas Maduro argues that the constituent assembly is the only way to help Venezuela out of its economic and political crisis.

Opposition leaders fear that the process of setting up a new constituent assembly and rewriting the constitution would almost certainly delay this year’s regional elections and the 2018 presidential election.

They also fear that the constituent assembly would further weaken the National Assembly, Venezuela’s opposition-controlled legislative body.

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Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro has surprisingly praised opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez’s jail release.

Leopoldo Lopez, one of Venezuela’s main opposition leaders, has been moved to house arrest after more than three years in jail.

He left a prison near Caracas and was reunited with his family on July 8.

Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza was serving a 14-year sentence for inciting violence during anti-government protests in 2014, a charge he has always denied. The Supreme Court said he was released on health grounds.

Venezuela: Leopoldo Lopez Jailed for 13 Years and Nine Months

President Maduro said he “respected” and “supported” the Supreme Court’s decision but called for “a message of peace and rectification” in Venezuela.

Hours after being freed, Leopoldo Lopez urged supporters to continue protesting in the streets against Nicolas Maduro.

Venezuela’s opposition and international powers have long pressed for Lopez’s freedom. The head of the Organization of American States regional bloc, Luis Almagro, said the court’s decision offered an opportunity for national reconciliation.

Image source Flickr

Former opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles stressed “he must be given his full liberty together with all political prisoners”, Reuters reported.

Giving a glimpse of his son’s life behind bars, Leopoldo Lopez’s father told Spanish radio “a few days ago they had punished him with solitary confinement without light or water for three days”.

He said his son was now wearing an electronic tag so that the authorities could keep abreast of his movements.

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Leopoldo Lopez’s wife had complained that she had not been allowed to see him for more than a month, but on July 7 she tweeted she had been allowed an hour-long meeting.

In May, a government lawmaker published a video of Leopoldo Lopez in his cell following rumors that he had been poisoned and taken to hospital.

In the video, Leopoldo Lopez – a Harvard-educated former mayor who has been prevented by the government from standing for public office – said he was well and did not know why he was being asked to prove he was still alive.

Venezuela has been experiencing a wave of anti-government protests similar to those over which Leopoldo Lopez was jailed.

The opposition is calling for early elections and the release of opposition politicians jailed in recent years, saying the socialist governments of President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, have mismanaged the economy since coming to power in 1999.

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A helicopter has dropped grenades on Venezuela’s Supreme Court in what President Nicolás Maduro called a “terrorist attack”.

Footage on social media shows a police helicopter circling over Caracas before shots and a loud bang are heard.

A police officer said to have piloted the stolen aircraft issued a statement denouncing the “criminal government”. His whereabouts are unknown.

The attack comes after mass protests against the political and economic crisis.

The Supreme Court is regularly criticized by the Venezuelan opposition for its rulings which bolster Nicolas Maduro’s hold on power.

Venezuela Opposition Sets Up Roadblocks and Demands Early Elections

In an address from the presidential palace, Nicolas Maduro said the helicopter had flown over the Supreme Court and also the justice and interior ministries.

Officials quoted by Reuters said four grenades were dropped on the court and 15 shots had been fired at the interior ministry.

No injuries were reported but President Maduro said “a social event” had been taking place at the Supreme Court and the attack could have caused “dozens of deaths”. One of the grenades failed to detonate, he added.

Nicolas Maduro has placed the military on alert.

“I have activated the entire armed forces to defend the peace,” he said.

“Sooner or later, we are going to capture that helicopter and those who carried out this terror attack.”

The police officer identified himself as Oscar Pérez in video statements posted on the social media platform Instagram.

Appearing in military fatigues and flanked by armed, masked men in uniform, he appealed to Venezuelans to oppose “tyranny”.

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“We are a coalition of military employees, policemen and civilians who are looking for balance and are against this criminal government,” he said.

“We don’t belong to any political tendency or party. We are nationalists, patriots and institutionalists.”

Oscar Pérez said the “fight” was not against the security forces but “against the impunity of this government. It is against tyranny”.

It is not clear how much support, if any, the officer has.

Nicolas Maduro said the pilot had worked for former Interior and Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres, but was no longer with him.

Venezuela opposition has set up roadblocks and staged demonstrations demanding elections as the country’s political and economic crisis deepens.

Protesters responded with defiance to President Nicolas Maduro’s call for a new constitution to end unrest that has killed 28 people.

Nicolas Maduro said his move was necessary to fend off a foreign-backed plot against him.

The US said it was a bid to cling to power, while Brazil called it a “coup”.

President Maduro’s opponents want to hold a vote to remove him, blaming the left-wing president for food shortages that have led to rioting.

The president has rejected their calls and issued a presidential decree creating a 500-member “constituent assembly” to rewrite the constitution, a step that would bypass the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

Photo Reuters

Nicolas Maduro announced the step to thousands of his supporters at a May Day rally two days ago.

Elsewhere, security forces deployed tear gas and water cannon at anti-government demonstrators.

Opposition leaders have called for a “mega protest” on May 3.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles tweeted: “People, into the streets!

“You must disobey such lunacy!”

There has been widespread international criticism of the move.

The head of the Washington-based Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, called it wrongheaded, unconstitutional and fraudulent.

The US state department spokesman Michael Fitzpatrick told reporters: “We have deep concerns about the motivation for this constituent assembly which overrides the will of the Venezuelan people and further erodes Venezuelan democracy.

“What President Maduro is trying to do yet again is change the rules of the game.”

Meanwhile, Brazilian Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes called the move a “coup”.

“It’s another step in breaking the democratic order, which contradicts the country’s own constitution,” he said.

In Venezuela itself, in the opposition-controlled National Assembly, lawmakers voted to reject the new body with many saying President Nicolas Maduro was attempting to sideline the legislature and avoid new elections.

Nicolas Maduro was elected in 2013 to succeed the late Hugo Chavez, a popular figure who introduced wide-ranging social welfare programs.

However, since then, falling prices for Venezuelan oil exports have cut government revenue and there have been shortages of food, baby milk, medicine and other basics.

The IMF has forecast that inflation in Venezuela will be above 700% in 2017.

Presidential elections are due at the end of 2018.

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