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Members of the Venezuelan government say they are putting down a small coup attempt after opposition leader Juan Guaido announced he was in the “final phase” of ending President Nicolas Maduro’s rule.

He appeared in a video with uniformed men, saying he had military support.

Juan Guaido, who declared himself interim president in January, called for more members of the military to help him end Nicolas Maduro’s “usurpation” of power.

However, military leaders appeared to be standing behind Nicolas Maduro.

Venezuela’s defense minister appeared on TV to stress the point. However, pictures from Caracas show some soldiers aligning themselves with Juan Guaido’s supporters.

Nicolas Maduro’s detractors hope the military will change its allegiance as resentment grows following years of hyperinflation, power cuts, food and medicine shortages.

So far, the armed forces have stood by President Maduro – despite dozens of countries, including the UK, the US and most of Latin America, recognizing Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader.

As a result, John Bolton, the US national security adviser, said what was taking place in Venezuela was not a coup, but a legitimate leader trying to take control.

Protesters supporting both sides have gathered at different points in the capital, Caracas.

There are running clashes between Juan Guaido’s supporters and armed military vehicles. Protesters were also seen throwing rocks, but being repelled by tear gas and water cannon.

TV cameras also caught the moment armored vehicles drove into a crowd but it is unclear if there were any injuries.

According to El Universal newspaper, at least 37 people had been injured across Caracas.

Meanwhile, Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino said the uprising by some members of the military had been “partly defeated”, but warned of possible bloodshed.

He warned: “The weapons of the republic are here to defend the nation’s sovereignty and independence.”

Vladimir Padrino also revealed one soldier had suffered a bullet wound.

Venezuela Crisis: Russia Condemns Foreign Powers for Backing Juan Guaido

Venezuela Elections 2018: Nicolas Maduro Wins Another Six-Year Term Amid Opposition Boycott

A three-minute video by Juan Guaido was published on April 30. In the video, he announced he had the support of “brave soldiers” in Caracas.

“The National Armed Forces have taken the correct decision… they are guaranteed to be on the right side of history,” he said.

Juan Guaido was filmed alongside another opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, who has been under house arrest since being found guilty of inciting violence during anti-government protests in 2014.

Leopoldo Lopez, who leads the Popular Will party of which Juan Guaido is a member, said he had been freed by members of the military.

He went on to urge Venezuelans to join them on the streets.

Meanwhile, Chile’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed he, his wife Lilian Tintori and their daughter had entered Chile’s embassy in Caracas to seek protection.

Juan Guaido, the president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, has been calling on the military to back him ever since he declared himself interim president.

He argues that President Nicolas Maduro is a “usurper” because he was re-elected in polls that had been widely disputed.

The video appeared to have been recorded at dawn in or near La Carlota air force base in Caracas.

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

Venezuela’s Main Opposition Parties Banned from 2018 Presidential Election

Venezuela: Henrique Capriles Leaves Opposition Coalition

Venezuela Elections 2017: Nicolas Maduro’s Party Wins 17 of 23 State Governorships amid Fraud Claims

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 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

Venezuela: Henrique Capriles Leaves Opposition Coalition

Venezuela Elections 2017: Nicolas Maduro’s Party Wins 17 of 23 State Governorships amid Fraud Claims

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

Henrique Capriles Ban: Thousands of Venezuelans March in Protest

Venezuela’s Supreme Court rejects Henrique Capriles’ election appeal

Henrique Capriles demands votes recount after rejecting Nicolas Maduro’s election

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.

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Venezuelan opposition leaders Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma have been re-arrested in a move condemned internationally.

Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma were under house arrest after accusations of inciting violence during anti-government protests in 2014.

They have been taken to Ramo Verde military jail, family members say.

The Supreme Court, which critics say is dominated by government loyalists, said it had received intelligence reports alleging the two were trying to flee.

The court also said that it had revoked Antonio Ledezma’s and Leopoldo López’s house arrest because they had made political statements.

The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said he was “deeply concerned” that the pair had been taken back into custody.

Venezuela: Leopoldo Lopez Jailed for 13 Years and Nine Months

Venezuela: Leopoldo Lopez Released from Jail After Three Years

Venezuela: Brazilian Senators Attacked After Trying to Meet Jailed Opposition Leader Leopoldo Lopez

The move comes just two days after a controversial vote for a constitutional assembly saw violence on the streets, with at least 10 people killed.

President Nicolás Maduro convened the assembly to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution amid spiraling anti-government protests on May 1.

He argued that the move would create peace and foster dialogue by bringing together different sectors of Venezuela’s polarized society.

However, the opposition accused the president of trying to rewrite the constitution in order to maximize his power and sideline the opposition-controlled legislature.

They boycotted the vote and called on Venezuelans to take to the streets in protest. The election was condemned by Latin American leaders, the EU and the US.

The day of the election was the deadliest so far since the current wave of protest began.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced on July 31 that the US had imposed sanctions on President Nicolas Maduro and called him a “dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people”.

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.

Lilian Tintori wrote that she would hold President Nicolás Maduro responsible if something were to happen to her husband.

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

A woman can be heard shouting: “They’re taking Ledezma, they’re taking Ledezma, dictatorship!”

The EU criticized the detentions as a step in the wrong direction and Chile’s foreign minister said they “sent an abysmal signal”.

The US also condemned the arrests. Republican Senator Marco Rubio noted that VP Mike Pence has spoken to Leopoldo López on July 28, and characterized the arrests as a response to the sanctions placed on President Maduro.

Both Antonio Ledezma and Leopoldo López 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.

Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma 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.

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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”.

Venezuela Opposition Leaders Stage General Strike

“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.

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Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has said he wants to resume talks with the opposition.

Nicolas Maduro also said he wanted local elections to take place.

The president’s comments came as another large demonstration is planned for April 24 after three weeks of tense protests across the country.

Demonstrators have been calling for presidential elections due next year to be brought forward and for Nicolas Maduro to step down.

The 2016 negotiations between the opposition and the government broke down when the opposition accused Nicolas Maduro of breaking agreements and using the talks to buy time.

Image source Wikimedia

Speaking during his Sunday TV program, Nicolas Maduro endorsed the idea of elections for mayors and state governors but did not mention a vote at presidential level.

“Elections – yes, I want elections now,” the president said.

“That is what I say as the head of state, and as the head of government.”

Elections for state governors were to have taken place in December 2016, and local mayoral elections are due this year.

April 22 saw silent marches across Venezuela as protestors, wearing white, showed their respect for around 20 people who have died in recent demonstrations.

Human rights campaigners say more than 1,000 people were detained during recent disturbances and over 700 are still in detention.

The opposition blames the government for a severe economic crisis which has left Venezuela with shortages of food, basic goods and medicine.

The protests were sparked by an attempt by the government-controlled Supreme Court to assume some powers of the opposition-dominated Congress.

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Thousands of protesters took the streets in Venezuela to march against the banning from politics of opposition leader Henrique Capriles for 15 years.

In the capital, Caracas, police used tear gas to prevent demonstrators reaching the offices of the national ombudsman.

April 8 protest came after a week of anti-government demonstrations.

They were initially sparked by a Supreme Court ruling to curb the powers of the national assembly, a move which was later overturned.

Security police fired tear gas on one major avenue in Caracas while in the city of San Cristobal they shot rubber bullets towards protestors.

Many demonstrators carried signs reading “No to dictatorship!” and “Capriles for President”.

Image source Flickr

In the Caracas protest there was a moment of silence in memory of a young man shot dead on April 6 by police during demonstrations.

Henrique Capriles has been at the forefront of demands for a recall referendum on President Nicolas Maduro.

A former presidential candidate who has run twice, Henrique Capriles is seen as the oppositions’ best hope of defeating Nicolas Maduro in elections scheduled for next year.

The ruling by the Venezuelan comptroller said the ban on Henrique Capriles was due to “administrative irregularities” in his role as governor.

He is the latest in a series of prominent opposition politicians to be put out of action.

Two years ago, Maria Corina Machado, a former congresswoman was banned from office as was a former mayor, Daniel Ceballos.

In 2015, another prominent opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison on charges of inciting violence during anti-government protests in 2014.

Venezuelans are dealing with the effects of a harsh economic crisis that has millions skipping meals, unable to afford soaring prices for basic goods and facing long lines for scarce products.

President Maduro’s socialist government have said that a US-backed business elite is responsible for Venezuela’s economic downturn and that it is trying to organize a coup to impose right-wing rule.

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Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has ruled out holding early elections amid calls from opposition groups for him to resign.

In a TV address, Nicolas Maduro said “nobody should get obsessed with electoral processes that are not in the constitution”.

The president’s comment comes a day after the government and opposition groups agreed on a road map to resolve Venezuela’s political and economic crisis.

President Maduro’s term ends in early 2019.

The opposition blames him and his government for the dire state of Venezuela’s economy.

Image source Wikimedia

Image source Wikimedia

Venezuela is suffering from sky-high inflation and there are shortages of many basic goods, including medical supplies.

According to a recent poll, more than three-quarters of Venezuelans are unhappy with Nicolas Maduro’s leadership.

However, an attempt by the opposition to organize a referendum to oust Nicolas Maduro from office has stalled after the Supreme Court ruled that there had been fraud during the early stages of the process.

The move caused outrage among opposition groups which then began to call for early elections as an alternative way to remove Nicolas Maduro from his post.

Speaking on his weekly TV program on November 13, Nicolas Maduro asked: “An electoral way out? Way out to where?”

Negotiators for the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) and the government met on November 11 for two days of Vatican-backed talks on how to end the political and economic crisis.

They released a joint statement in which they pledged to “live together in peace” and laid out a road map on how to defuse the situation.

While there was no mention of early elections in the joint statement, opposition lead negotiator Carlos Ocariz later announced that the MUD coalition would stay at the negotiating table only until it obtained early elections or a recall referendum.

After ruling out early elections, Nicolas Maduro mocked Carlos Ocariz’s statement saying that “it makes me very happy that the MUD will continue in the dialogue until December 2018”.

December 2018 is when the next presidential election is due to be held if no early polls are called.

The next round of talks between the opposition and the government is scheduled for December 6.

However, a number of opposition leaders have already called for protests, which had been halted as a sign of goodwill ahead of the talks, to resume.

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Venezuela’s parliament has delayed the symbolic trial of President Nicolas Maduro, which was due to take place on November 1.

Henry Ramos Allup, the speaker for the opposition-dominated National Assembly, said the decision was aimed at easing the country’s political crisis.

Image source Wikimedia

Image source Wikimedia

An opposition march on the presidential palace planned for November 3 has also been postponed.

Nicolas Maduro is accused of violating the constitution but claims lawmakers are attempting a “coup”.

The decision to delay the trial follows Vatican-sponsored talks between the two sides, and the release from prison of three anti-government activists.

Last month a referendum process seeking to remove President Nicolas Maduro was suspended after the government said that the vote was meaningless.

The president has dismissed the trial as invalid and has vowed to jail participants of any attempt to overthrow his government.

The rise in tensions between the government and the opposition comes despite an agreement last week to hold crisis talks.

Nicolas Maduro is blamed by the opposition for Venezuela’s dire economic situation. The oil-rich country is facing widespread food shortages and high inflation.

The opposition has been trying to hold a recall referendum that would allow Nicolas Maduro to be removed from office.

Venezuela’s opposition parties and the government are meeting for the first time this year to try to resolve the country’s deep political crisis.

President Nicolas Maduro is attending the talks, which are being supervised by a Vatican envoy and other mediators.

Opposition is demanding a referendum be allowed to take place on whether Nicolas Maduro should step down.

For its part, the government wants the opposition to renounce violence and reject right-wing economic policies.

The meeting, at a museum in Caracas, follows a general strike and huge opposition rallies.Nicolas Maduro imposes visas for Americans

Nicolas Maduro shook hands with the five opposition leaders who including Jesus Torrealba, the leader of the Democratic Unity coalition.

Vatican envoy Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli urged both sides to engage in serious dialogue to defuse the mounting political crisis.

“The Pope is following the situation of this country very closely and hopes this process can continue peacefully,” he said.

Former political leaders from Spain, Panama and the Dominican Republic are also helping to mediate.

On October 28, opposition leaders in Venezuela organized a general strike to push for a referendum on removing President Nicolas Maduro from power.

Many shops, businesses and schools stayed closed but adherence to the strike was patchy and poorer areas largely ignored it.

Hundreds of thousands of people rallied against Nicolas Maduro on October 26, angered that a recall referendum process – an attempt to remove Maduro from power – had been suspended.

Opposition activists had gathered about 1.8 million signatures petitioning for the referendum, 400,000 of which were validated by electoral authorities.

Supporters of Nicolas Maduro have also taken to the streets.

The government and opposition are at loggerheads over Venezuela’s dire economic problems which have led to food shortages, lack of medical supplies and regular power cuts.

The inflation rate, already the world’s highest, is expected to spiral even further in 2017.

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In a surprise move, Venezuela opposition and the government are to meet for crisis talks, the Vatican says, after an intervention from Pope Francis.

Protests have been held in recent days over the suspension of a referendum process seeking to remove President Nicolas Maduro.

The move came after Nicolas Maduro met Pope Francis in an unannounced visit.

The Vatican and regional bloc Unasur will mediate in the talks.

Pope Francis “urged [the parties] to show courage in pursuing the path of sincere and constructive dialogue”, the Vatican said in a statement.Leopoldo Lopez jailed in Venezuela

After meeting representatives from both sides, the Vatican’s envoy to Argentina, Emil Paul Tscherrig, said “a national dialogue” had already started.

He said they had agreed to formal talks on Sunday on Margarita island in the Caribbean.

Nicolas Maduro said “at last” dialogue could begin.

The head of the opposition coalition, Jesus Torrealba, who met Emil Paul Tscherrig, said while talks were important “it can’t continue to be a strategy for the government to win time”.

Another top opposition figure, Henrique Capriles, dismissed the announcement as a diversionary ploy.

“No dialogue has begun in Venezuela,” he said.

Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, is blamed by the opposition for Venezuela’s dire economic situation. The oil-rich country is facing widespread food shortages and spiraling inflation.

The opposition is trying to hold a recall referendum that would allow Nicolas Maduro to be removed from office but electoral authorities suspended the process last week.

The official reason was allegations of fraud during the gathering of signatures for the first petition required to enable the referendum.

However, opposition lawmakers have long accused the National Electoral Council of being under the government’s control.

In an emergency session of the National Assembly on October 23, they approved a resolution accusing Nicolas Maduro’s Socialist government of engaging in “an ongoing coup d’etat”.

The Organization of American States also said it was “profoundly worried” by the electoral authorities’ decision.

Hundreds of students protested on October 24 in San Cristobal, a city near the Colombian border. Nationwide protests are planned for October 26.

Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of having links to foreign states, the US in particular, and of seeking to overthrow him to “lay their hands on Venezuela’s oil riches”.

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The first step in Venezuela’s opposition campaign to recall President Nicolas Maduro has been approved, the national election council has announced.

The council said the opposition had succeeded in gathering 1% of voter signatures in all 24 of Venezuela’s states.

The move is the first part of the opposition’s push for an early end to Nicolas Maduro’s term in office.

In a further twist, the Supreme Court suspended opposition activity in Venezuela’s parliament.Nicolas Maduro imposes visas for Americans

The court said activity would be frozen until three opposition members being investigated for vote-buying were removed.

The country is going through a political and economic crisis, which has led to shortages of basic goods and looting.

The inflation rate is one of the highest in the world and there are long queues outside shops.

The election council said Nicolas Maduro’s opponents had cleared the threshold of obtaining 200,000 valid signatures on a petition demanding that the president face a recall referendum.

The council did not set a date for the next stage of the lengthy recall process – when the opposition will need to collect four million signatures in just three days.

The opposition accuses Nicolas Maduro’s administration of mismanaging the economy.

He was elected in April 2013 and his term runs until 2019.

Correspondents say election council head Tibisay Lucena provided the president with a major fillip by stating that claims of widespread fraud in the opposition petition should be investigated.

Tibisay Lucena said the authorities had detected more than 1,000 apparently falsified signatures.

“The electoral authority will ask the state prosecutor’s office to investigate,” she said.

However, Tibisay Lucena made clear that 98% out of about 408,000 signatures gathered by the opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition – twice the minimum required in the initial phase – had been validated.

The government made clear that it was determined not to allow a referendum this year.

It has initiated nearly 9,000 lawsuits around the country in an effort to try to halt the referendum push.

Correspondents say timing is vital because if President Nicolas Maduro loses a referendum this year – as polls suggest he will – a new presidential vote will be triggered, giving the opposition a chance to end 17 years of socialist rule.

If the president loses a referendum in 2017, he would be replaced by his vice-president, effectively ensuring the socialist party remains in power until the next presidential election scheduled for 2018.

Opposition leaders want Tibisay Lucena immediately to announce a date for the collection of 20% of signatures in order to trigger a referendum as soon as possible.

Venezuela’s opposition has validated enough signatures on a petition to move to the next stage in a process to remove President Nicolas Maduro in a recall referendum.

Hundreds of thousands of people have given fingerprints to authenticate signatures on the petition.

Referendum co-ordinator Vicente Bello said the number of signatures had “clearly exceeded the minimum needed”.

The process must now be validated by electoral officials.

If that step is passed, a second petition must be signed by 4 million people before a recall referendum can be held.

The opposition blames President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist policies for rampant inflation and shortages of food and basic goods.Nicolas Maduro imposes visas for Americans

The initial petition handed in on May 2 gathered almost two million signatures but election officials said 600,000 of those were fraudulent.

Those who signed the petition had until June 24 to have their identity cards and fingerprints checked in centers set up by the National Electoral Council (CNE).

Only 1% of the electorate – or 194,729 voters – is needed to endorse the referendum in the first phase.

Many people queued for hours to have their signatures authenticated by electronic fingerprinting.

Opposition leaders want the recall vote to be held this year, as its timing is key for what happens next.

If the referendum is held before January 10 and goes against Nicolas Maduro, fresh elections will be triggered.

If the vote were to be held after January 10 – in the last two years of Nicolas Maduro’s mandate – he would be replaced by his vice-president and supporter, Aristobulo Isturiz.

Nicolas Maduro was elected in April 2013 and his term runs until 2019.

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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.

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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’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.

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 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.