Published: Sun, May 14, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Pope calls for peace as Venezuela turmoil continues

Pope calls for peace as Venezuela turmoil continues

Opposition leaders called on to their supporters "to shake up the country" and reject the invoking of a National Constituent Assembly, a measure that President Nicolas Maduro announced on May Day in a bid to appease social tensions in the country.

Maduro said he has triggered an article of the constitution that reforms all public powers, The Guardian reports, and he did this in order "to achieve the peace needed by the republic, defeat the fascist coup, and let the sovereign people impose peace, harmony, and true national dialogue".

During a news conference with journalists on the flight to Rome April 29 after his visit to Egypt, Pope Francis said that while "there is something moving forward", negotiations are "still very much up in the air".

Venezuela has been rocked by violent protests in recent weeks as opposition leaders have faced off with Maduro and his supporters. He touts the move as evidence of strong worker protection under "21st century Socialism."But foes say the increase, which takes the minimum wage to almost $50 a month at the black market rate, is further proof of Maduro wrecking the oil-rich nation's economy with chaotic policies like currency controls and excessive money printing.Millions of Venezuelans are struggling to eat three square meals a day or afford basic medicines amid a fourth year of recession". He called for a series of street actions, including a symbolic pot-banging protest Monday night and a major demonstration Wednesday.

"We must modify this state, especially the rotten National Assembly that's now there", Maduro said.

Opposition activists say the minimum wage increase is merely a publicity ploy from a president who refuses to meet their demands for the release of more than 100 political prisoners and the establishment of new elections.

It is small solace to workers who seen the buying power of their earnings eroded by a sinking currency and the world's highest inflation - forecast to accelerate to 2,000 percent next year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

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Caracas residents blocked streets with trash bags, broken concrete and twisted metal Tuesday to protest the socialist president's bid to rewrite the constitution amid a deepening political crisis. Around half would be drawn from sectors of society - from a "working class base", Maduro said - directly choosing their representatives, while the other half would be named by local councils across the country. The opposition called the move a "coup" and a "scam", calling on supporters to take to the streets.

"This is not a constituent assembly, it's the dissolution of the republic", said opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara.

Some, wearing motorbike helmets, swimming goggles or bandanas over their mouths, threw stones and petrol bombs at the security line, with a protester yelling, "No one turn back!"

Olivares was injured in the head by a gas canister, the opposition said.

Maduro was vague in a televised speech Monday evening about how members would be chosen for a citizen assembly to produce a new charter. "Venezuela's problem is that an empire in extremists' hands wants to take our oil and carry out a coup".

Many protesters vowed Monday to keep pressuring the government.

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