on October 26, 2016, 5:58 am
Caracas (AFP) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused the opposition-majority legislature Tuesday of staging a “parliamentary coup” after lawmakers voted to put him on trial amid a tense political and economic crisis.
Accused by the legislature of “abandoning his post” and “criminal and political responsibility” for Venezuela’s descent into crisis, Maduro fired back by calling a meeting of his National Defense Council on Wednesday — the same day the opposition plans massive anti-government protests.
“We will not permit a parliamentary coup of any kind,” he told cheering supporters at a rally in Caracas, after jetting back from an international tour.
Lawmakers earlier voted to open a “political and criminal trial” against Maduro over what they themselves have declared a coup: authorities’ decision last week to halt their efforts to call a referendum on removing the leftist leader from power.
– ‘The devil’ –
It is unclear what impact Tuesday’s legislative vote will have. The Supreme Court — which the opposition claims Maduro controls — has ruled the National Assembly’s decisions invalid.
Maduro accused the “useless” legislature of trying to “harm Venezuela,” and urged his opponents to agree to talks.
The offer to open talks has sown deep divisions in the opposition.
On Monday opposition leaders first accepted and then rejected a proposal by Pope Francis for a “national dialogue” on Venezuela’s crisis.
Some top opposition leaders said they had only learned on TV about the proposal to hold negotiations on the Caribbean island of Margarita starting Sunday.
The rift lay bare the tension in the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a shaky coalition united mainly by shared hatred of Maduro.
– ‘Not even Superman Francis…’ –
Leading opposition figure Henrique Capriles accused Maduro of using the pope’s goodwill for his own ends.
“What you must know is that we in Venezuela are fighting against Satan. This is the devil we’re facing, they are devils. They believe in nothing, they have no principles. They say they’re Christians when it’s convenient,” he said.
Political analysts were meanwhile skeptical about the prospects for talks to resolve the crisis.
“Even if Pope Francis comes here dressed up as Superman, dialogue won’t resolve” Venezuela’s problems, said political scientist Nicmer Evans.
The MUD said Monday it would only agree to talks if the government respected the constitutional right to a referendum and freed its imprisoned activists and leaders, among other demands.
– Bad to worse –
Analysts have warned of a risk of violent unrest in Venezuela. Clashes at anti-government protests in 2014 left 43 people dead.
On Monday a students’ group said 27 people were injured in clashes with police at a protest in the western city of San Cristobal.
Hit by the fall of global oil prices, Venezuela’s economy has crashed, sparking protests and looting driven by shortages of food, medicine and basic goods.
Maduro calls the economic crisis a capitalist conspiracy.
His opponents say it is the result of severe mismanagement during 17 years of socialist rule under Maduro and his late mentor, Hugo Chavez.
In recession since the beginning of 2014, Venezuela’s economy is facing a contraction of 10 percent this year and inflation of 475 percent, rising to 1,660 percent next year, the IMF forecasts.
A recent poll found more than 75 percent of Venezuelans disapprove of Maduro.
The center-right opposition rode that discontent to a landslide win in legislative elections last December — only for the Supreme Court to block its every move in the National Assembly.
– Tense Wednesday –
Tension is set to rise again Wednesday — the day the opposition was to have begun collecting the four million signatures needed to trigger a recall referendum.
Instead, the opposition now plans massive nationwide protests, even as Maduro huddles with his so-called National Defense Council, which includes the heads of the various branches of government.
Maduro meanwhile flexed his muscle Tuesday with a rally of thousands of supporters, almost immediately after arriving home from his trip abroad.
Besides meeting Pope Francis — with whom he said he had a “deeply human, spiritual conversation” — Maduro pushed leaders in the Middle East to cut oil output in hopes of raising prices.
He also made an unscheduled stop in Portugal to meet future UN secretary general Antonio Guterres.