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Venezuela opposition joins in Maduro mango mania

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By Andrew Cawthorne

CARACAS, May 7 (Reuters) - Venezuelans have not stopped chortling since President Nicolas Maduro was hit by a mango and then rewarded the fruit-thrower with a new home, but now Maduro's foes are seeking to score political points from the tropical fruit.

Government supporters cheered the incident as a sign of the socialist leader's common touch and care for the people and Maduro has been photographed holding mangoes with other messages on them.

Opposition backers, however, derided it as cheap populism hiding a lack of serious solutions, and have tweeted photos of mangoes bearing critical messages.

There is even a smartphone game based on the incident.

One opposition leader, Maria Corina Machado, tweeted a picture of herself this week holding a mango with the word "Resign" scribbled on.

"Let's see if he gets it when I use the same method: #Resign," said Machado, who has led calls from radical opposition parties for Hugo Chavez's successor to step down.

In April, the president was driving a bus through a crowd in the central state of Aragua when someone in the crowd tossed the mango at him. Later, on television, Maduro displayed the fruit which bore the name and phone number of Marleny Olivo.

"I've approved an apartment for you Marleny," he said, and promised to eat the mango.

The incident sparked a fierce online debate, with Maduro foes saying the president manipulated the case for political gain and questioning whether it actually occurred as he said.

The opposition Democratic Unity coalition, gearing up for a parliamentary election later this year, urged Venezuelans to "hit him in the face" with millions of votes rather than fruit.

"The Venezuelan people are not going to achieve this urgent and necessary change throwing mangoes or T-shirts at the decadent power," it said in a statement.

Maduro himself has been laughingly displaying some of the mangoes now coming in from other Venezuelans with contacts and requests for help written on. But he is urging people to hand them over carefully rather than throw them.

"Mangoes are in fashion," he joshed on state television.

Perhaps inevitably, a new phone app has emerged, called "Maduro Mango Attack", enabling users to play at throwing fruit at him also. And even British comedian John Oliver has gotten in on the act with a section dedicated to Venezuela and mangoes on his "Last Week Tonight" show in the United States. (Additional reporting by Diego Ore; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and David Gregorio)

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