A meeting billed as a national dialogue for local and state officials in troubled Venezuela convened on Monday without the country's most prominent opposition leader.
Governor Henrique Capriles, the opposition candidate in the last two presidential elections, refused to attend the meeting called by President Nicolas Maduro amid political turmoil that has engulfed the country in recent weeks and led to the deaths of 13 people.
Capriles did not say whether he would also sit out a national peace conference called by the president for Wednesday. Capriles, governor of wealthy Miranda state, told reporters that attending Monday's meeting would look like an endorsement for a government that he says has engaged in “repression'' as troops and police have clashed with protesters.
“I am not going to make Nicolas Maduro look good ... That is what they want, that I go there as if the country was absolutely normal,'' he said.
“This is a dying government ... I’m not going to be like the orchestra on the Titanic,” he said. “Miraflores [the presidential palace] is not the place to talk about peace, it’s the centre of operations for abuses of human rights.”
‘Wake up Venezuela’
Capriles and other opposition figureheads are demanding that the government release imprisoned protest leader Leopoldo Lopez, who, facing an arrest warrant, surrendered to the authorities last week.
They also want Maduro to disarm pro-government gangs and address national issues ranging from rampant crime to shortages of basic goods. Hardline student protesters, though, are demanding that Maduro step down, less than a year into his term.
Anti-government demonstrators put up barricades and set fire to trash in Caracas on Monday, severely disrupting traffic in the capital.
“We know we’re bothering people but we have to wake up Venezuela!” student Pablo Herrera, 23, told AP in Caracas.
Authorities in the convulsed border state of Tachira confirmed another death on Monday – a man who fell from his second-storey apartment after being hit by a bullet from a nearby protest.
The demonstrations are the biggest challenge to Maduro’s 10-month-old government, though there is no sign they could topple him or affect the OPEC member’s oil shipments. Venezuela is Latin America’s biggest exporter of crude oil and has the world’s largest petroleum reserves.
The government says 529 people have been charged over the unrest, most of whom have been handed warnings, but 45 of whom remain behind bars. About 150 people have been injured, authorities say.
Ghost of Chavez
“If there’s one thing these violent protests have done, it’s unite ‘Chavismo’,” Maduro told state television on Monday, using the term for government supporters coined during the 14-year rule of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.
Capriles, a 51-year-old former union activist who has made preserving Chavez’s legacy the centrepiece of his rule, accuses opponents of trying to instigate a coup backed by the US.
Addressing a rally of pro-government motorbike riders on Monday, Maduro accused the opposition of bringing in “mercenaries” to fuel the violence, including one man from the Middle East who was detained with 11 telephones.
Prices of Venezuela’s bonds surged as much as 4 percent on Monday, though this was largely due to the announcement of a new currency exchange platform that investors believe will strengthen government finances.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-02-25