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1.3 million Venezuelans who signed a petition for a referendum to oust President Nicolas Maduro will need to turn up at regional electoral offices to confirm their identity, the National Electoral Council (CNE) has ruled.

Voters will have five days from June 20 to have their signatures checked.

According to Venezuela’s opposition, the CNE is working in tandem with government to slow down the process.

The opposition blames the government for Venezuela’s serious economic crisis.Nicolas Maduro imposes visas for Americans

The petition was handed over to the electoral authorities on May 2.

The opposition said it had the signatures of 1.85 million voters backing a recall referendum, many more than the 197,000 needed at this initial stage. The CNE said there were 1.97 million signatures.

Nicolas Maduro’s government said there was widespread fraud in the process.

It said the names of thousands of dead voters and children were on the petition, which has been confirmed by CNE President Tibisay Lucena.

More than 600,000 signatures have been invalidated by the electoral bodies.

The other voters who signed the petition will need to have their identities checked between June 20 and 24.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles urged voters to get ready to comply with the CNE demand and go to government offices to have their identities checked later this month.

Tibisay Lucena warned that the process would be immediately suspended until order was restored if there was “any act of violence, trouble or aggression”.

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Cuba will not return to the Organization of American States (OAS), says President Raul Castro in a show of solidarity with Venezuela.

OAS Secretary General Luis Almargo has called for sanctions against Venezuela.

At a summit of Caribbean countries in Havana, President Raul Castro called the OAS “an instrument of imperialist domination”.

Meanwhile, former Spanish PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has met jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

It was Leopoldo Lopez’s first visit from anyone other than family members or lawyers since the 45-year-old was sentenced to 14 years in prison last year after being found guilty of inciting violence.Raul Castro Cuba US ties

Leopoldo Lopez’s supporters insist he is innocent and say he was jailed on trumped-up, politically-motivated charges.

The meeting at Ramo Verde military prison outside Caracas lasted about 90 minutes, according to Adriana Lopez, the opposition leader’s sister.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is trying to negotiate between the opposition and the government in Venezuela’s worsening political crisis.

Cuba was expelled from the OAS in 1962 but following a recent thaw in relations with the US it was suggested that the island might return.

However, Raul Castro appeared to rule out the possibility, offering “our most firm solidarity to our brothers the Venezuelan people, to the legitimate government of President Nicolas Maduro”.

President Nicolas Maduro is locked in a dispute with the OAS over opposition demands in Venezuela for a recall referendum.

Luis Almargo said earlier this week that “the institutional crisis in Venezuela demands immediate changes in the actions of the executive branch”.

He has called an emergency meeting of the OAS at which member states will decide whether to invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which could lead to Venezuela’s suspension from the OAS.

Coca-Cola has been forced to stop producing soft drinks in Venezuela amid an escalating food and energy shortage.

The company said that sugar suppliers in Venezuela will “temporarily cease operations due to a lack of raw materials”.

The announcement comes after Venezuela’s biggest brewer, Empresas Polar, closed plants due to a barley shortage.

Venezuela’s economy has contracted sharply as oil prices plunge.

A Coca-Cola spokeswoman said the company would continue producing sugarless drinks such as Coca-Cola Light (Diet Coke).

She said: “We are engaging with suppliers, government authorities and our associates to take the necessary actions for a prompt solution.”Coca Cola Venezuela sugar shortage

Sugarcane production has been falling due to price controls and rising production costs, as well as problems in obtaining fertilizer.

As a result, many smaller farmers have turned to other crops that are not price controlled and thus generate higher income.

Venezuela is expected to produce 430,000 tonnes of sugarcane in 2016/17, down from 450,000 tonnes for the previous 12 months, and import 850,000 tonnes of raw and refined sugar, according to USDA figures.

The country’s economic problems have forced many consumers to queue for hours to buy basic foodstuffs.

Venezuela’s economy is expected to shrink by 8% in 2016 after it contracted by 5.8% in 2015.

Its reliance on oil to generate foreign currency and investment has made it a victim of regular recessions.

President Nicolas Maduro has declared a state of emergency in an effort to combat the economic crisis. Critics argue it is an attempt to strengthen his grip on power.

Meanwhile, Bridgestone said on May 23 it was selling its Venezuelan business after six decades in the country.

Bridgestone’s Venezuelan assets will be sold to Grupo Corimon.

Other multinational companies such as Procter & Gamble, Ford and Halliburton have either slowed or abandoned their investments in Venezuela.

The leader of Venezuela’s opposition, Henrique Capriles, has urged the army to choose whether it is “with the constitution or with [President Nicolas] Maduro”, after a state of emergency was declared.

President Nicolas Maduro has announced a 60-day emergency, giving soldiers and police wider powers to deal with the country’s spiraling economic crisis.

Henrique Capriles said the decree gave the president unconstitutional powers.

The opposition leader called on Venezuelans to ignore it and take to the streets on May 18.

He told reporters: “We, Venezuelans, will not accept this decree. This is Maduro putting himself above the constitution.

“To impose this, he’d better start preparing to deploy the war tanks and military jets.”

“And I tell the armed forces: The hour of truth is coming, to decide whether you are with the constitution or with Maduro,” Henrique Capriles said.

He said the opposition was not calling for a military coup, but instead seeking a legal and constitutional way of ousting Nicolas Maduro through a recall referendum.

The state of emergency is in place for 60 days and can be renewed for another 60.

Venezuela's Supreme Court has rejected Henrique Capriles’ appeal against April's contested presidential election result

Venezuela’s Supreme Court has rejected Henrique Capriles’ appeal against April’s contested presidential election result

The decree was rejected by the opposition-held National Assembly late on May 17, but Nicolas Maduro had indicated that he would not abide by their decision.

At a press conference with foreign journalists in Caracas, Nicolas Maduro said the National Assembly had “lost political validity.

“It’s a matter of time before it disappears,” he added.

Nicolas Maduro also said that the opposition had missed the deadline for the referendum and falsified signatures.

Opposition politicians began the process two weeks ago by handing in a petition signed by 1.85 million people, well above the 1% of voters on the electoral roll needed to kick-start the process.

Venezuela’s constitution says that a referendum will be called to decide if the president remains in power if a second petition is signed by at least 20% of the electorate, or nearly four million people.

However, the government has already made it clear that the referendum will not go ahead.

Nicolas Maduro accused the United States of leading a plot to deploy foreign troops in his country, and force him from office.

He told foreign journalists that a US military plane entered Venezuelan air space twice last week without authorization.

Politicians and media from outside the country have been trying to sow chaos in Venezuela to justify intervention, he said.

“This whole campaign, has a centre. There is an axis: Madrid, Miami and Washington,” he said.

“But there is a centre of planning, of direction, lobbying, strength and funding. That centre is located in Washington.”

Nicolas Maduro promised to fight back and to do everything in his power “to continue winning the battle for internal peace”.

He also made reference to the recent suspension of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff to face an impeachment trial.

Nicolas Maduro described the process as a coup, backed by foreign powers.

Venezuela is facing a serious economic crisis, with high inflation and shortage of many basic goods.

Nicolas Maduro accuses Venezuela’s elite of boycotting the economy to achieve its political goals.

The opposition blames the mistaken policies of Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, for the crisis.

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro won’t be ousted by a referendum because there will be no referendum, Vice-President Aristobulo Isturiz has said.

Two weeks ago, opposition politicians began the process by handing in a petition signed by 1.85 million people.

However, Aistobulo Isturiz said the opposition had “acted too late, had done it wrong and had committed fraud”.

Members of the opposition have previously warned the referendum may be hard to push through, as they alleged that the National Electoral Council (CNE) is staffed by government loyalists.

Nicolas Maduro has announced that three air force generals have been arrested for plotting an uprising against his government

Nicolas Maduro has announced that three air force generals have been arrested for plotting an uprising against his government

Many Venezuelans blame President Nicolas Maduro for the economic crisis the country is experiencing.

Venezuela’s economy contracted by 5.7% last year and is expected to shrink further this year. Inflation is at 180%, according to official figures, and there are shortages of medicines and basic food items.

On May 13, Nicolas Maduro declared a state of emergency to “denounce, neutralize and overcome the external and foreign aggressions against our country”, which he blames for Venezuela’s economic problems.

Nicolas Maduro did not specify what powers the state of emergency would give him except to say it would offer Venezuelans “fuller, more comprehensive protection”.

On May 2, opposition politicians handed in 80 boxes containing 1.85 million signatures to the CNE, well above the 1% of voters on the electoral roll needed to kick-start the process.

Opposition politicians say the authorities are trying to stall the process and have called on their supporters to march to the offices of the CNE on May 18 to demand they verify the signatures so the process can go ahead.

The timing of a potential recall referendum is key because the outcome could be radically different depending on when it is held.

Under Venezuela’s constitution, if President Nicolas Maduro were to be removed by a recall referendum in his last two years in office, he would be replaced by his Vice-President, Aristobulo Isturiz.

However, if Nicolas Maduro were to be recalled before that, new elections would be triggered.

The opposition sees it as essential to have new elections rather than have Aristobulo Isturiz take over power, as he is seen as a loyal member of Nicolas Maduro’s Socialist Unity Party.

For new elections to be held, the recall referendum would have to go against Nicolas Maduro before January 10, 2017.

In a speech to supporters in Venezuela’s capital Caracas, President Nicolas Maduro has threatened the seizure of factories that have stopped production, and the jailing of their owners.

Nicolas Maduro said Venezuela had to recover the means of production, to counter its deep economic crisis.

On May 13, the president introduced a new, nationwide state of emergency.

Meanwhile, opposition protesters have been rallying in Caracas to push for a recall vote to eject Nicolas Maduro from power.

The Venezuelan leader said the state of emergency was needed to combat foreign aggression, which he blamed for the country’s problems.

Nicolas Maduro said military exercises would take place next weekend to counter “foreign threats”.

Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves but its economy has been severely hit by falling global oil prices. The country’s economy contracted by 5.7% last year and its official inflation rate is estimated to be topping 180%.

There are severe shortages of food, medicines and basic goods which Nicolas Maduro argues are due to business leaders and the US waging an economic war against his government.Nicolas Maduro imposes visas for Americans

The threat to seize closed factories came after Venezuela’s largest food and beverage company, the Polar Group, halted production of beer, blaming government mismanagement for stopping it importing barley.

The Polar Group’s billionaire owner, Lorenzo Mendoza, is a fierce critic of President Nicolas Maduro.

Nicolas Maduro told supporters at the Caracas rally: “We must take all measures to recover productive capacity, which is being paralyzed by the bourgeoisie.

“Anyone who wants to halt [production] to sabotage the country should get out, and those who do must be handcuffed and sent to the PGV [Venezuelan General Penitentiary].

“We’re going to tell imperialism and the international right that the people are present, with their farm instruments in one hand and a gun in the other… to defend this sacred land.”

On May 13, President Nicolas Maduro declared a full-blown state of emergency, expanding the state of “economic emergency” he had announced in January.

In an address to the nation, Nicolas Maduro said the measures would be in place for three months but would likely be extended over 2017.

The president did not specify if there would be limits to other constitutional rights but he said the decree would provide “a fuller, more comprehensive protection for our people.”

A previous state of emergency was implemented in states near the Colombian border in 2015.

It suspended constitutional guarantees in those areas but did not suspend guarantees related to human rights.

Venezuela’s Minister for Communication and Information Luis Jose Marcano said the state of emergency would allow the government more resources to distribute food, basic goods and medicines.

Luis Jose Marcano added that it also created “mechanisms for the security forces to be able to guarantee public order needed because of the threats by armed groups”.

The opposition has collected and submitted a petition with 1.8 million signatures in favor of a referendum on Nicolas Maduro, but the National Electoral Board (CNE) has so far not verified them.

The verification process was supposed to take five days but 12 days have already elapsed.

Opposition activists say authorities are not letting them proceed to the next stage when they must collect another four million signatures.

Addressing the crowds on May 14, opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said: “We want a country without queues, where we can find medicines. We want change.”

Henrique Capriles described Venezuela as a “time bomb that can explode at any given moment”.

According to the Venezuelan Constitution, if a referendum is held before the end of the year, a recall vote against Nicolas Maduro would trigger new elections.

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Venezuela has reversed a half-hour time change that was one of the signature measures of former president Hugo Chávez’s idiosyncratic 14-year rule starting with May 1.

The former leader turned Venezuela’s clocks back 30 minutes in 2007 so that children could wake up for school in daylight.

However, President Nicolás Maduro has decided to return to the previous system, four hours behind GMT, to ensure more daylight in the evening when energy consumption peaks.

The government already ordered rolling blackouts and reduced the working week for public sector workers to two days.

Nicolas Maduro has blamed the energy crisis on a severe drought.Venezuela stores working hours

He says the drought has drained the country’s hydroelectric dams and its capacity to generate power. His critics say the crisis is due to mismanagement of the energy sector.

The government has also ordered schools to close on Fridays and shopping malls to open only half time and generate their own energy.

When he announced the time change, Science and Technology Minister Jorge Arreaza said the night-time use of lighting and air conditioning was especially draining for the national power grid.

Oil-rich Venezuela is in the middle of a deep economic crisis caused by a drop in global oil prices. The country is suffering from a shortage of basic goods and food.

Nicolas Maduro has said the situation has been caused by an “economic war” against his socialist government driven by Venezuela’s business elite and the United States.

The opposition in Congress which took over the legislature in December has accused Nicolas Maduro and his government of economic mismanagement and incompetence.

They have sworn to drive Nicolas Maduro from office and have begun gathering the signatures needed to begin organizing a referendum to remove him from the presidency.

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s economic crisis has claimed another victim as the country’s largest brewer, Polar, suspended its operations.

Polar, the largest private company in Venezuela, brews about 70% of the country’s beer and Venezuela is one of the highest consumers of the beverage in Latin America.

Polar has argued that the government has not released enough dollars to allow it to import malted barley, which Venezuela does not produce.

Venezuela has announced it is imposing a two-day working week for public sector workers as a temporary measure to help it overcome a serious energy crisis.

According to Vice-President Aristobulo Isturiz, civil servants should turn up for work only on Mondays and Tuesdays until the crisis was over.

The South American country is facing a major drought, which has dramatically reduced water levels at its main hydroelectric dam.

However, the opposition has accused the government of mismanaging the crisis.

The measures announced on national television by Aristobulo Isturiz affect two million public sector workers.

In the TV address, the vice-president said: “There will be no work in the public sector on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, except for fundamental and necessary tasks.”Venezuela food shortage

President Nicolas Maduro had already given most of Venezuela’s 2.8 million state employees Fridays off during April and May, to cut down on electricity consumption.

He said Venezuela had been badly hit by the El Nino weather phenomenon and would return to normal when it started raining again.

“We are requesting international help, technical and financial aid to help revert the situation,” he said.

“We are managing the situation in the best possible way while we wait for the rains to return.”

“Several countries in the region have been affected by the drought, caused by El Nino. But Venezuela has the highest domestic consumption of energy.”

Venezuela’s government has already adopted a number of other measures to try to deal with the crisis. In February, shopping centers were told to reduce their opening hours and generate their own energy.

Earlier this week, the government put the clocks forward by half an hour to reduce demand for electricity in the early evening.

Last week, it announced it was introducing power cuts for four hours a day.

The power shortages have deepened Venezuela’s serious economic crisis.

Many businessmen and opposition politicians blame the energy crisis and shortages of basic goods on government economic mismanagement.

They say tough currency controls introduced in 2003 by the late president, Hugo Chavez, have only made this worse.

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s economy has also been hit by a sharp fall in the price of its main export, oil.

Venezuela will cut power for four hours a day from next week to deal with a worsening energy crisis.

The power cuts will last for 40 days as the country struggles under a severe drought limiting hydroelectric output.

It is the latest setback to Venezuela’s economy which has been hit by a sharp fall in the price of its main export, oil.

Venezuela’s main brewer, Polar, also says it will stop production because it has no dollars to buy grain abroad.

Polar, which produces 80% of Venezuela’s beer, says 10,000 workers will be affected by the stoppage.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

Announcing the restrictions on April 21, Energy Minister Luis Motta Dominguez said the hours of suspension would be published on a daily basis in newspapers and on ministerial websites. He added that the cuts would not happen between 20:00 and midday.

Venezuela’s energy crisis has been deepening all this year, in February, shopping malls were told to reduce their opening hours and generate their own energy.

President Nicolas Maduro has accused Venezuela’s business elite of colluding with the US to wreck the economy.

He has accused Polar President Lorenzo Mendoza of being allied to the opposition which now dominates the Venezuelan parliament against him.

Many businessmen and opposition politicians blame the energy crisis and shortages of basic goods on government economic mismanagement.

They say tough currency controls introduced in 2003 by the late president, Hugo Chavez have only made this worse.

The country’s economy is in dire straits, suffering from spiraling inflation, shortages of some basic goods and dwindling revenue from oil.

Venezuela’s almost exclusive relies on oil, the price of which has fallen sharply.

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Venezuelan opposition has held a day of protests to launch a new campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

Crowds marched in capital Caracas and other cities to express their anger at Venezuela’s economic crisis and called on the president to stand down.

Nicolas Maduro led a protest in Caracas against the renewal of US sanctions on top Venezuelan officials.

The opposition has made clear it intends to use street power to force Nicolas Maduro from office.

March 12 protests marked the launch of Venezuela’s opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD).

Last week the coalition announced it would use all options available to try to remove Nicolas Maduro, including a recall referendum and a constitutional amendment reducing the presidential term from six to four years.

Photo Reuters

Photo Reuters

The opposition won a landslide victory in last December’s elections but it has seen its authority hamstrung by the Supreme Court which it says supports the government.

As a result, the MUD has placed special emphasis on protests as a way to put force Nicolas Maduro’s resignation.

Correspondents say this is a potentially explosive path after anti-government demonstrations in 2014 left 43 people dead. This led to the arrest of a number of opposition leaders on charges of murder and inciting violence.

Nicolas Maduro led his own rally in Caracas, ostensibly against US sanctions and what the government regards as interference in Venezuela’s affairs.

The sanctions were first put in place a year ago after a government crack-down on opposition leaders.

The protests come against the backdrop of a deep economic crisis made worse by the crash in the price of oil which long funded the Chavez and Maduro government’s spending on social welfare.

Venezuela holds the world’s largest crude reserves but its economy contracted 5.7% in 2015.

Venezuela has decided to increase fuel prices for the first time in 20 years, although President Nicolas Maduro claims it will still be the cheapest in the world.

Nicolas Maduro said pump prices of premium fuel would rise from the equivalent of $0.01 a liter to about $0.60.

The cost of lower grade petrol would rise to about $0.10 a liter.

Nicolas Maduro unveiled a series measures to help ease Venezuela’s economic crisis, including devaluing the currency.

The rise in the heavily-subsidized fuel price will save $800 million a year.Venezuela fuel price increased

“Venezuela has the cheapest gasoline in the world,” Nicolas Maduro said in a TV address.

“The cost is almost nothing.”

However, other countries, including Saudi Arabia also have extremely cheap, subsidized petrol prices.

Nicolas Maduro said the price rise was “a necessary measure, a necessary action to balance things, I take responsibility for it.”

Food and petrol price increases in 1989 sparked nationwide protests that resulted in scores of deaths, unrest that is considered to have paved the way for the late President Hugo Chavez’s rise to power.

Venezuela’s economy has been pushed to the brink by the collapse in the oil price, which accounts for about 95% of the country’s export revenues.

The economy shrank 10% in 2015, amid rampant inflation and shortages of some basic products,

According to the Bloomberg news agency, the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela incurred $15.2 billion in costs in 2013 to maintain Venezuela’s fuel subsidy.

Nicolas Maduro also announced that the government would “simplify” the complex exchange rate from February 18, easing the protected official rate for food and medicine imports which will now operate alongside a parallel “floating” rate.

Investors have become increasingly concerned about Venezuela’s potential default on its huge debts.

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Venezuela’s opposition plans to speed up moves to oust the government of President Nicolas Maduro after it took control of the National Assembly.

Parliament speaker Henry Ramos Allup said proposals would be presented in a matter of days – rather than months.

A day earlier, Nicolas Maduro was given backing by the Supreme Court for a declaration of economic emergency, giving him greater powers.

The country is facing a shortage of many staple goods and rampant inflation.

Venezuela’s economy is heavily dependent on oil exports and has suffered substantially in the past year given the sharp fall in crude oil prices in international markets.

Energy rationing has been imposed, blamed by government ministers on critically low water levels caused by drought at 18 of the country’s hydro-electric dams.

The National Assembly speaker and other opposition leaders had previously announced they planned to challenge Nicolas Maduro in six months’ time.

However, Henry Ramos Allup now says Venezuela cannot afford to wait.Henry Ramos Allup on Nicolas Maduro ousting

“Nobody doubts now that that six-month timeframe is too long,” he said.

“It is not we who impose the timing, it is the needs of the country.”

“In the next few days we will have to present a concrete proposal for the departure of that national disgrace that is the government,” he told a news conference.

Henry Ramos Allup called on President Nicolas Maduro to revoke the decree on emergency measures.

He also attacked the Supreme Court over the decree, saying if what it “has done is not a coup, I don’t know what to call it”.

Most if not all Supreme Court judges have been appointed either by Nicolas Maduro or his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez. It rarely rules against the government.

Nicolas Maduro defended the court’s ruling and said the measures were necessary to deal with the crisis.

“This decision was taken by the highest court of the country, in accordance with the constitution,” the president said.

Nicolas Maduro’s decree was issued on January 14. It is valid for 60 days and it can be renewed by the president.

The government says businessmen linked to the opposition have been hiding basic staples such as flour, sugar and toilet paper as part of a strategy to undermine the economy and oust Nicolas Maduro’s democratically elected government.

He was elected in April 2013 to a six-year term, replacing Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer after 14 years in office.

The Venezuelan constitution says that a referendum to replace the president can be called any time after the first three years of his term, which will be in April 2016.

Four million signatures are needed to trigger a recall referendum.

The governing Socialist Party suffered a heavy defeat in December’s legislative election. It lost control of the National Assembly for the first time in 16 years.

Venezuela has declared a 60-day economic emergency as the country deals with its worsening crisis.

President Nicolas Maduro will govern by decree for two months.

The edict includes tax increases and puts emergency measures in place to pay for welfare services and food imports.

The government’s move came as official figures released by the central bank showed that the Venezuelan economy had contracted by 4.5% in the first nine months of 2015.

The emergency was declared hours before President Nicolas Maduro delivers a State of the Nation address to Congress for the first time since his centre-right opponents took control of the legislature.Venezuela economic crisis

The decree also instilled more state controls on businesses, industrial productivity and on electronic currency transactions.

Venezuela has the world’s biggest known oil reserves but the huge fall in oil prices in the past 18 months has slashed its revenues by 60%.

Annual inflation up to September 2014 is said by the Venezuelan Central Bank to have reached 141%.

President Nicolas Maduro and new Economy Minister Luis Salas have argued for the need to protect social program established by his predecessor, former President Hugo Chavez, from the global drop in oil prices.

Oil exports account for as much as 95% of Venezuela’s revenue.

The government says the country’s soaring inflation and basic goods shortages have been induced by political opponents.

Correspondents say Venezuelans will be watching carefully to see if the opposition-dominated Congress will support President Nicolas Maduro.

If it does not, the Maduro administration could appeal to the Supreme Court of Justice.

Venezuela’s electoral authority has confirmed that the opposition has won a key two-thirds majority, enabling it to challenge President Nicolas Maduro.

The opposition said it would work to release jailed opposition leaders and address the country’s economic crisis.

Nicolas Maduro has announced a cabinet reshuffle but vowed to veto any amnesty law for jailed politicians.

The election result is the worst for the Socialist movement founded by late leader Hugo Chavez in 1999.

The majority means the Democratic Unity coalition can now make sweeping changes, including calling a possible referendum on Nicolas Maduro’s leadership.

It also wants the release of one of its leaders, Leopoldo Lopez, who was given a 13-year prison sentence for inciting violence – a charge critics say was politically motivated.Venezuela elections opposition supermajority

However, in a TV address, President Nicolas Maduro said he would block any amnesty law: “The murderers have to be prosecuted and have to pay.”

Nicolas Maduro said his Socialist Party would hold an “extraordinary congress” to find out what went wrong at the election.

The opposition meanwhile warned of looming food shortages for Venezuelans.

“We urge the government to stop crying and start working,” opposition leader Jesus Torrealba said.

“We’re just a few weeks away from a very serious problem in terms of food,” he added.

Venezuela’s opposition coalition has won a majority of seats in the National Assembly, overturning nearly two decades of dominance by the Socialists of President Nicolas Maduro.

Five hours after polling ended, the National Electoral Council announced the opposition had won 99 seats.

President Nicolas Maduro has admitted defeat, recognizing “these adverse results”.

It is the worst-ever defeat for the leftist movement founded by former leader Hugo Chavez in 1999.

The Socialists have gained 46 seats, with another 22 yet to be declared.

Results arrived much later than expected, five hours after polls closed. Fireworks erupted over the capital, Caracas, soon after.Venezuela elections results 2015

Among the campaign issues were chronic food shortages of staples – such as milk, rice, coffee, sugar, corn flour and cooking oil.

Venezuela has been hit hard by the continuing low price of oil, its main export. It also has the continent’s highest inflation rate.

President Nicolas Maduro has blamed the situation on an “economic war” waged by the opposition.

“We have come with our morals and our ethics to recognize these adverse results, to accept them and to say to our Venezuela that the constitution and democracy have triumphed.

“We have lost a battle today, but the struggle to build a new society is just beginning,” Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s president and head of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, added.

Henrique Capriles, a leading opposition figure in the Democratic Unity Roundtable and a former presidential challenger, tweeted: “The results are as we hoped. Venezuela has won. It’s irreversible.”

Jesus Torrealba, opposition coalition chief, said: “Venezuela wanted a change and that change came. A new majority expressed itself and sent a clear and resounding message.”

The opposition alliance, made up of centrist and conservative parties, is confident of ultimately taking at least 112 seats after 16 years of socialist control.

The results also give stronger momentum to the opposition should it wish to call a referendum on Nicolas Maduro’s future. This could take place only when his presidency reaches its halfway point in April next year.

However, under Venezuela’s presidential system the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) will still be a powerful force, as it controls many municipalities.

The next presidential election is due in April 2019.

Venezuelans are voting in congressional elections that are seen as the first serious challenge to the governing socialists in 17 years.

According to opinion polls, a broad opposition coalition could capitalize on widespread frustration over food shortages, inflation and crime.

Nicolas Maduro’s governing PSUV, however, retains wide support in rural areas, and will continue to control the presidency.

Voters will be electing all 167 National Assembly members.

Even if the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable captures a majority in the assembly, its power will be limited.

However, a win for the coalition – which includes center-left and centre-right groups – could mark a potential political shift in Venezuela.

The elections are widely regarded as a referendum on President Nicolas Maduro, the handpicked successor of the late president Hugo Chavez, and the party’s socialist policies.Venezuela elections 2015

The opposition accuses the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) of mismanaging the economy and of squandering the country’s oil wealth.

Nicolas Maduro says his party defends the interests of ordinary Venezuelans and wants to complete Hugo Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution”.

“They say they’re winning in the polls – it’s the same story of the last 17 years,” Nicolas Maduro said at one election rally.

“Let them win in the polls, we will win in the streets.”

Among the concerns are chronic food shortages of staples – such as milk, rice, coffee, sugar, corn flour and cooking oil.

Nicolas Maduro has blamed the situation on an “economic war” waged against his government by the opposition.

The opposition also accuses the government of increasing authoritarianism.

Earlier this year opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was given a 13-year prison sentence for inciting violence – a charge critics say was politically motivated.

Venezuela has invited election monitors from regional body UNASUR but has rejected those from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the EU.

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Venezuela’s National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello has accused the United States of kidnapping two nephews of First Lady Cilia Flores, wife of President Nicolas Maduro.

The two were arrested in Haiti last week and taken by the US Drug Enforcement Administration to New York and charged with drug trafficking.

Diosdado Cabello said the arrests were “irregular” and had been carried out to damage the governing party ahead of legislative elections on December 6.

US-Venezuelan ties have been fraught.

The US and Venezuela have not exchanged ambassadors since 2012 and Venezuela regularly accuses the US of trying to destabilize the Latin American country.

Diosdado Cabello, a powerful figure in the governing United Socialist Party (PSUV), was the first official to speak out about the arrest of the two men on November 10.

Photo AFP

Photo AFP

In an interview with Venezuelan TV, Diosdado Cabello said that he did not consider it an arrest.

“A plane went to Haiti with six people and they kidnapped two,” he said referring to the fact that the four other people on board had not been charged.

“It’s the DEA’s normal procedure to kidnap lots of people,” he alleged.

The aim of the arrests, Diosdado Cabello added, was “to hurt the Bolivarian revolution” in the midst of an election.

Some polls suggest that the governing coalition could lose its majority in the National Assembly for the first time in 16 years on December 6.

Efrain Antonio Campo Flores, 29, and Franqui Flores de Freitas, 30, were charged with one count of drug trafficking on November 12.

The two are nephews of first lady Cilia Flores and travelled on diplomatic passports.

Diosdado Cabello said they had acted independently: “These are grown men who can do what they want in life.”

Their indictment accuses the men of conspiring to import “five kilograms [11 lb] and more of mixtures and substances containing a detectable amount of cocaine” to the US.

A US law enforcement source had told Reuters that the two men had allegedly planned to smuggle a much larger amount, 800kg, to the US.

Lawyers for Efrain Antonio Campo Flores and Franqui Flores de Freitas said they would plead not guilty at their next court appearance.

Venezuelan educator and opposition leader Manuel Rosales has been arrested on his return to the country after 6 years of self-imposed exile.

Manuel Rosales, who said he wanted to take part in December’s parliamentary elections, was detained shortly after landing in the city of Maracaibo.

The politician ran against the late President Hugo Chavez in 2006.

Manuel Rosales, 62, fled to Peru in 2009 amid corruption allegations, which he says are politically motivated.

He was arrested on October 15 as he arrived at Maracaibo from the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba. He is expected to appear in court in Caracas shortly.

Manuel Rosales is charged with corruption during his term as governor of Zulia state between 2000 and 2008.

He had announced on October 9 that he was planning to return to Venezuela.

Photo AP

Photo AP

Shortly before departing from Aruba Manuel Rosales posted a picture of him boarding.

He tweeted: “With God and the Virgin Mary, preparing to go to Venezuela to meet my people again.”

Venezuela’s Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz had warned that there was an arrest warrant against him.

Venezuelans go to the polls on December 6 for the first parliamentary elections since President Nicolas Maduro was elected in 2013.

Venezuela is facing a serious economic crisis, which the opposition blames on failed socialist policies of Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro.

The government says Venezuela has been hit by a sharp drop in international oil prices, but it also accuses powerful groups of boycotting the economy to destabilize Nicolas Maduro.

Several other opposition leaders have also been detained since last year.

Last month, prominent opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was found guilty of inciting violence during protests in 2014 in which 43 people – from both sides of the political divide – were killed.

Leopoldo Lopez was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison.

The US government and the UN have called for the release of the opposition politicians.

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Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and his Colombian counterpart, Juan Manuel Santos, have agreed to gradually reopen their common border after talks in Ecuador.

Venezuela closed the Colombian border a month ago and launched a major anti-smuggling operation.

Nicolas Maduro says smuggling has led to shortages in parts of Venezuela.

Meeting in Ecuador, Nicolas Maduro and Juan Manuel Santos also said they would return ambassadors to each other’s capitals immediately.

Some 20,000 Colombians have left Venezuela since the crisis began.

More than 1,500 of them were evicted due to alleged connections with criminal gangs operating in the area.Venezuela Colombia border dispute

Most of the others fled in fear, many carrying their personal belongings over the border rivers.

“Common sense, dialogue and peace between our peoples and our countries have triumphed today,” said Nicolas Maduro after the talks in Quito.

For his part, Juan Manuel Santos said Venezuela “should have respected the rights of Colombians” who had to leave the country and return over the border.

The Colombian leader added: “I agree that criminal organizations working in the border area is a big problem, but the best way to deal with it is by working together.”

Most crossings were closed and some 3,000 Venezuelan troops have been deployed along the border since Nicolas Maduro launched a major anti-smuggling operation 19 August.

For many years, heavily subsidized items from Venezuela, including cheap petrol, have been sold at huge profit over the border in Colombia.

Nicolas Maduro says smuggling has led to shortages in the west of Venezuela and other parts of the country.

The talks on September 21 were facilitated by Uruguayan President Tabare Vasquez and his Ecuadorean counterpart, Rafael Correa.

The summit was preceded by two meetings between the Colombian and the Venezuelan foreign ministers.

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Venezuela’s opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has been sentenced to 13 years and nine months in jail for inciting violence.

Leopoldo Lopez, 44, was found guilty of inciting violence during protests in 2014 in which 43 people – from both sides of the political divide – were killed.

He had been held in a military prison since February 2014.

While the court verdict was being awaited, fighting broke out between his supporters and pro-government activists outside the courthouse in Caracas.

Leopoldo Lopez’s supporters said one of them had suffered a heart-attack during the disturbances.

The court ruling was revealed by Leopoldo Lopez’s Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) political party and later confirmed by his lawyers.Leopoldo Lopez jailed in Venezuela

Leopoldo Lopez’s defense team earlier said there had been serious irregularities in the trial, with the judge hearing 138 witnesses for the prosecution but only one of the 50 witnesses and pieces of evidence submitted by the defense.

His family says he has been in solitary confinement for most of his 19 months in prison and that his human rights have been violated.

Several other opposition leaders have also been held in detention and their fate has divided opinion in Venezuela.

The US government and the United Nations have called for their release.

Reacting to the court verdict, US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson said she was “deeply concerned” by the conviction.

Roberta Jacobson also urged the Venezuelan government to “protect democracy” in the country.

For many poorer Venezuelans, Leopoldo Lopez is seen as a dangerous figure who incites violence and coups against the government and who is out of touch with the needs of most ordinary people.

His critics point to his involvement in 2002 in a failed coup attempt against late President Hugo Chavez.

However, Leopoldo Lopez’s supporters say he is a scapegoat for current President Nicolas Maduro during Venezuela’s economic crisis that has led to shortages of basic goods.

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Venezuela and Colombia have recalled their envoys following days of growing tension between the neighboring South American nations.

More than 1,000 Colombians have been deported and about 6,000 have left in fear since Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro closed the border last week.

On August 27, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said it was “unacceptable” and withdrew his ambassador.

The Venezuelan government followed suit later in the day.

Nicolas Maduro closed the border and declared a state of emergency in the western state of Tachira on August 21 after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian.

Photo AP

Photo AP

Announcing the recall of his ambassador, Juan Manuel Santos condemned the expulsions.

“I can’t allow Venezuela to treat Colombians and the Colombian government in this way,” he said.

Th president added that he would call for an extraordinary meeting of foreign ministers from the Union of South American Nations.

A while later, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez announced that Caracas was recalling its own ambassador to Colombia for consultations.

Smugglers have long operated along the porous border between the countries, purchasing heavily subsidized goods in Venezuela to resell in Colombia.

Talks by the countries’ foreign ministers on August 26 were aimed at normalizing the situation in the key border region of Cucuta.

Hundreds are living in shelters there surrounded by the few possessions they could carry across the border on their backs.

Nicolas Maduro blames much of the violence on the Venezuelan side of the border on Colombian paramilitaries, whom he accuses of crossing the border freely to commit crimes.

In order to fight these gangs he declared a 60-day state of emergency on August 21 which, among other things, allows the authorities to search homes without a warrant.

However, the Colombian president said those who had been deported were “no paramilitaries but poor and humble families who only want to live and work”.

Juan Manuel Santos said some had complained of mistreatment by the Venezuelan security forces. The Venezuelan foreign minister dismissed allegations as “media lies”.

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Venezuela has declared a state of emergency in a border region near Colombia following an attack by smugglers in which three soldiers and a civilian were injured.

President Nicolas Maduro said there would be 60 days of martial law in five municipalities of the state of Tachira.

He also said the closure of the border, announced on August 20, will be extended until further notice.

Petrol and food smugglers have increasingly clashed with officers.Venezuela martial law Colombia border

Nicolas Maduro said Colombian paramilitary groups regularly travel to Venezuela, generating chaos and shortages in order to destabilise the revolution.

He said an extra 1,500 soldiers had arrived to reinforce the area.

“This decree provides ample power to civil and military authorities to restore peace,” Nicolas Maduro said in a broadcast on state TV.

On August 19, three Venezuelan army officers and a civilian were injured in riots with Colombian smugglers.

Venezuela closed its border with Colombia for the first time last year.

Without making direct reference to Nicolas Maduro’s recent statement, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Venezuelan citizens were “always welcome”.

Tensions run high along the porous 1,370-mile border.

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Venezuela’s opposition leader Maria Corina Machado says she has been barred from public office for 12 months.

Maria Corina Machado, who is a former congresswoman, said she was given 15 days to appeal against the decision.

It was not clear on what grounds she was barred but the move could prevent her from standing again for congress in December’s parliamentary election.

Maria Corina Machado led a major street protest against the government in early 2014.Maria Corina Machado barred from public office 2015

Government opponents have accused President Nicolas Maduro of bullying the opposition ahead of the elections.

Another leading opposition figure, Daniel Ceballos, a former mayor who is also running for parliament, was also banned from holding public office.

Venezuelan media said Daniel Ceballos was disqualified for not presenting a sworn wealth declaration.

Maria Corina Machado was stripped of her seat in the National Assembly last year after accepting an invitation from Panama to speak before the Organization of American States (OAS) to give her account of the wave of unrest which spread through Venezuela in early 2014.

The state prosecutor’s office then charged Maria Corina Machado of taking part in an alleged plot to kill President Nicolas Maduro.

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Eight Brazilian senators visiting Venezuela to meet jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez say they had to flee after their bus was attacked.

The Brazilian opposition politicians were trying to meet former mayor Leopoldo Lopez, who is in jail accused of inciting violence during protests.

The senators said the bus was stoned as it travelled from Caracas airport.

Brazil’s foreign ministry says it will seek an explanation from the Venezuelan government.

One of the senators, Ronaldo Caiado, tweeted: “Our bus was under siege; they were beating and trying to break it. I filmed them throwing stones against the bus.”

Another, former presidential candidate Aecio Neves, said: “We are here to defend democracy and until now the Venezuelan government has shown little appreciation of it.”Brazilian senators attacked in Venezuela

The group returned to the airport and is reportedly waiting to go back to Brazil.

The incident occurred a few hours after the senators landed in Caracas airport.

Earlier this month former Spanish PM Felipe Gonzales left Caracas earlier than expected after his attempts to speak to Leopoldo Lopez, who has been in jail for more than a year.

Leopoldo Lopez is accused of inciting violence during protests last year. More than 40 people, from both sides of the political divide, were killed in months of demonstrations against the government of Nicolas Maduro.

President Nicolas Maduro’s government is wary of foreign support of Venezuelan opposition leaders.

The Brazilian Foreign Ministry said hostile acts against its politicians were unacceptable and promised to seek an explanation from Venezuela.

It released a statement June18 saying:“The Brazilian government regrets the incidents that affected this visit to Venezuela.”

“Hostile acts from protesters toward Brazilian lawmakers are unacceptable,” the statement added.

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Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has granted a flat to a woman after she made her point by hitting him on the head with a mango.

Marleny Olivo threw a mango at Nicolas Maduro while he was driving a bus through the central state of Aragua.

It had a message on it, in which she pleaded for his help.

President Nicolas Maduro displayed the mango with Marleny Olivo’s telephone number on it during a live television show afterwards. He said he had agreed to her request for a flat.

The move, the president said, was part of the “Great Housing Mission of Venezuela”.Nicolas Maduro mango

Marleny Olivo had written a message on a mango: “If you can, call me” – along with her name and phone number. She got as close to the bus as she could when it passed and then tossed the mango at Nicolas Maduro.

In a video that has gone viral in Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro can be seen lowering his head when he is hit just above the left ear. He then calmly picks up the mango and displays it to the crowd.

Later he discussed the incident in one of his regular live TV broadcasts in which he displayed the infamous mango.

“She had a housing problem, right? And, Marleny, I have approved it already, as part of the Great Housing Mission of Venezuela, you will get an apartment and it will be given to you in the next few hours.

“Tomorrow, no later than the day after tomorrow, we will give it to you.”

Marleny Olivo said that there was “no evil intent” behind the incident only a desire to fulfill her dreaming of owning a home before she dies.

Nicolas Maduro – who is a former bus driver and likes to connect with ordinary Venezuelans by touring local communities at the wheel of a coach – added that the mango was ripe and that he would eat it later.