Nicolas Maduro Venezuela leader promises constitution referendum to calm crisis

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro offered to hold a referendum on contested constitutional reforms in an apparent bid to calm critics in his own camp as he resists opposition efforts to remove him from office.

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Anti-government protests like this one in Caracas on May 31 have rocked Venezuela for two months play

Anti-government protests like this one in Caracas on May 31 have rocked Venezuela for two months

(AFP)
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Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro offered to hold a referendum on contested constitutional reforms in an apparent bid to calm critics in his own camp as he resists opposition efforts to remove him from office.

The surprise announcement late Thursday followed two months of deadly unrest during anti-government protests and signs of division in the socialist leader's side.

The opposition says his constitutional reform plan is a bid to cling to power -- and key allies such as Attorney General Luisa Ortega have broken ranks with him, arguing it is undemocratic.

Maduro said at a cabinet meeting late Thursday that "the new constitution will be put to a referendum so that the people can say whether they agree or not."

Maduro aims to set up an elected constitutional reform body called a constituent assembly. His opponents say he will fill it with his allies.

'Political play'

Analysts were skeptical about Maduro's referendum announcement, saying that constitutionally Maduro was not authorized to call such a vote.

"It is a political ploy," said analyst Luis Vicente Leon, president of polling firm Datanalisis.

"It breaks the main criticism" leveled at Maduro by Ortega and other critics, "to lower the tension and calm the internal demons" in the government camp, Leon said.

Ortega had filed a legal challenge against the plan earlier Thursday. Maduro said those who opposed his plan were "traitors."

Ortega has been a traditional ally of the socialist leadership since the time of Maduro's late predecessor Hugo Chavez.

Her challenge at the constitutional court does not have legal force to stop Maduro's plan, but "shows the divisions and disagreements within Chavismo," said Leon.

Elected in 2013, Maduro is resisting opposition calls for early elections to remove him.

The opposition blames him for severe food and medicine shortages in the oil-rich nation.

He says the crisis is a US-backed conspiracy.

State prosecutors say 62 people have been killed in two months of unrest, which have seen protesters clash daily with riot police.

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