Venezuela opposition accuse Maduro of 'coup' after referendum quashed
October 24, 2016
Image: President Maduro
Venezuela is bracing for turbulence after the socialist government blocked a presidential recall referendum in a move opposition leaders are calling a coup.
The opposition is urging supporters to take to the streets, beginning with a march on a major highway Saturday led by the wives of jailed activists, while a leading government figure is calling for the arrest of high-profile government critics.
Polls suggest socialist President Nicolas Maduro would lose a recall vote. But that became a moot issue on Thursday when elections officials issued an order suspending a recall signature drive a week before it was to start.
"What we saw yesterday was a coup," said former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, who had been the leading champion of the recall effort. "We'll remain peaceful, but we will not be taken for fools. We must defend our country."
International condemnation was swift. Twelve western hemisphere nations, including the U.S. and even leftist-run governments such as Chile and Uruguay, said in a statement Friday that the suspension of the referendum and travel restrictions on the opposition leadership affects the prospect for dialogue and finding a peaceful solution to the nation's crisis.
In another sign of growing regional tensions, Colombia's flagship airline briefly grounded all flights to Caracas after a Venezuelan air force jet came close to an Avianca Boeing 787 with about 200 people aboard.
The commercial jet landed safely at its intended destination of Bogota 90 minutes later. The airline said Saturday that flights would be resumed Sunday following clarification from the two governments.
The socialists won power nearly two decades ago with the election of the popular former President Hugo Chavez, and for years enjoyed easy election victories. But with the economy in free fall, polls show most Venezuelans have turned against the party, and over the years, the administration has gradually become increasingly autocratic.
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