Venezuela opposition marches to congress in showdown with President Maduro

Venezuela’s National Assembly President and opposition leader Juan Guaido rises an arm as he takes part in a demonstration in Caracas, Venezuela March 10, 2020. (Reuters)

Venezuela’s opposition on Tuesday marched toward downtown Caracas with the aim of regaining control of the national congress, which was snatched by pro-government lawmakers in January, setting up a showdown with President Nicolas Maduro.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido for weeks has urged Venezuelans to join the rally as a way of reviving street protests against Maduro that surged in 2019 but have waned as the ruling Socialist Party has clung to power.

This is the opposition’s first march since Guaido returned on February 11 from a diplomatic tour that included a meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House. It marks another test of Guaido’s capacity to mobilize supporters, who are increasingly weary with his inability to oust Maduro despite a broad US sanctions program and an economic collapse.

“On March 10, Venezuelans will exercise our rights in the streets,” Guaido told reporters on Monday at a news conference about the march. “The only option available for Venezuelans is to escape this disaster.”

The protest is likely to meet stiff resistance from security forces, which were deployed around the country on Monday as part of military exercises ordered by Maduro.

Troops may not allow the marchers, who will include members of Parliament, to reach the legislative palace. Lawmakers will seek a different venue to hold session if they are not allowed to reach congress, according to one opposition source.

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As hundreds of opposition supporters gathered at Caracas’ Juan Pablo II square, by the wealthy Chacao district, dozens of police officers with riot shields kept watch a few blocks away, alongside several armored vehicles.

“We have to be here,” said Thais Perez, a 54-year-old retired teacher. “There are a lot of people who are tired, but we can’t give up.”

The government has called its own separate rallies in downtown Caracas for Tuesday. Socialist Party Vice President Diosdado Cabello said the opposition’s march was an attempt to rally its flagging energy.

“Every time the right-wing is cornered, they look for events that can raise the excitement of people who stopped being excited a long time ago. They try to create leadership where there is none,” Cabello said on Monday.

In January, a group of legislators backed by the Socialist Party installed themselves as the leaders of congress after troops blocked Guaido from attending a vote at which he was expected to be elected to a second term as assembly head.

Opposition lawmakers later re-elected Guaido in an extra-mural session, but they have been largely unable to meet at the legislative palace since then.

More than 50 countries last year recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president following Maduro’s disputed 2018 re-election, which was widely dismissed as fraudulent.

Venezuela this year is slated to hold parliamentary elections, but the opposition has not determined if it will participate due to concerns that the government will not provide adequate conditions.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 10:05 - GMT 07:05
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