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In Venezuela Tense faces fresh street protests

Opponents of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro vow fresh street protests Thursday after earlier unrest left dozens of people injured as tension mounts over moves to keep him in power.

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Venezuelan opposition activists chanting "No more dictatorship!" hurled stones at National Guard riot police who blocked them from marching on central Caracas play

Venezuelan opposition activists chanting "No more dictatorship!" hurled stones at National Guard riot police who blocked them from marching on central Caracas

(AFP)
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Opponents of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro vow fresh street protests Thursday after earlier unrest left dozens of people injured as tension mounts over moves to keep him in power.

It was the latest step in a political crisis that is raising concerns for democracy and stability in the volatile major oil exporter.

Street protests are one of the few options left for the center-right opposition to increase pressure on Maduro, whom they blame for the country's economic crisis.

Negotiations have failed and he has resisted international pressure, while retaining the backing of the military and control of most state institutions.

The opposition has taken to the streets accusing Supreme Court judges of attempting an internal "coup d'etat" last week.

"We are calling the people into the street to support our demand for the judges to be removed," said senior opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara.

'Coup' charge

The judges last week issued rulings transferring the National Assembly's legislative powers to their court and revoking lawmakers' immunity from prosecution.

The court later reversed the rulings after an international outcry, but kept in place other measures limiting the assembly's powers.

On Wednesday opposition lawmakers launched an effort to fire the judges.

That looked unlikely to succeed since the removal of the judges depends on other state institutions loyal to the government.

"They have carried out an ongoing internal coup," senior opposition deputy Henry Ramos Allup told the assembly.

"We have to escape from it by civil protests, exercising our constitutional functions and not giving in to a failed, outlaw government."

Protests, injuries

Scores of people were hurt on Tuesday when riot police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse a protest march in Caracas, opposition groups said.

On Wednesday, similar clashes broke out in the western city of San Cristobal, scene of deadly riots and looting last year, and in the city of Valencia.

The wave of protests raised tension in Venezuela, where 43 people were killed during protests in 2014.

The country has undergone three attempted military coups since 1992.

The opposition said it planned on Thursday to march along the main highway in the capital to the Altamira district, far from the flashpoint assembly building.

The leader of the pro-government bloc in the assembly, Hector Rodriguez, called on supporters of Maduro to march to the assembly to condemn the opposition lawmakers' moves against the court.

"They may shout loudly or quietly, they may commit violence, may call for riots or for judges to be fired, but they cannot remove them without breaching the constitution," Rodriguez said.

Election pressure

Maduro is resisting opposition efforts to hold an early vote on removing him from power.

Venezuela's next general election is due in December 2018. Regional elections in December were postponed and no date has been set for local polls due this year.

The collapse in energy prices has sapped the country's revenues, prompting shortages of food, medicine and basic goods along with a surge in violent crime.

The opposition blames Maduro for the economic crisis. He says it is due to a capitalist conspiracy.

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