Opposition rally cancelled after post-election violence
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Opposition leader Henrique Capriles Wednesday called off a protest rally saying “the government wants there to be deaths”, in the wake of deadly post-election unrest. Authorities say seven people have died, 60 injured and 170 arrested.
Venezuela’s president elect Nicolas Maduro and opposition rival Henrique Capriles traded accusations of blame on Tuesday over post-election violence that has left seven dead in the South American country, with Washington wading into the turbulent situation.
Deadly clashes erupted in the capital of Caracas and across the country on Monday night, after the country’s National Electoral Board (CNE) declared Maduro the winner of special elections to replace the late president Hugo Chavez.
Officials said that two victims of the political violence were Maduro supporters shot dead while celebrating his victory. Authorities also said more than 60 people were injured and 170 others arrested.
“This is the responsibility of those who have called for violence, who have ignored the constitution and the institutions,” a furious Maduro said in a speech to the nation. “Their plan is a coup d’etat.”
Maduro, Chavez’ hand-picked successor, has consistently branded his opponents “fascists” in speeches and on Twitter.
Capriles, 40, who leads a centre-right coalition opposed to the left-wing ruling PSUV party, has demanded a full recount after an extremely close poll, referring to Maduro as “the illegitimate”.
Protest and counter-protest
After Monday night’s violence, his supporters held peaceful demonstrations in front of the CNE on Tuesday and vowed to continue demonstrating. But Maduro said he would bar an opposition protest march planned for Wednesday in Caracas, and then called on his supporters to launch a counter-protest.
That prompted Capriles to call off his Wednesday rally. “Whoever goes out into the street tomorrow is playing the government’s game,” Capriles thundered at a press conference Tuesday night. “The government wants there to be deaths in the country.”
However, it was unclear whether Maduro’s critics would heed Capriles’ advice, according to FRANCE 24’s Caracas correspondent Alexander Turnbull. “At the end of the press conference, small groups of anti-Maduro protesters blocked roads and took to the streets to complain about the decision to suspend the march,” Turnbull noted.
“There are fears that in both camps armed groups might be getting ready to move in the instant the situation turns sour,” Turnbull added.
Venezuela’s election body said it would not proceed with a vote-by-vote recount, insisting it has fulfilled its mission and that Capriles should seek redress through legal channels set out by the constitution.
In recent years Venezuela’s opposition has avoided criticism of the CNE, which oversaw a 2007 referendum that Chavez lost.
Washington backs recount
On Tuesday the US State Department said Venezuela should proceed with a full recount, saying a new tally was “important, prudent and necessary” and that it did not understand the CNE’s apparent rush to declare Maduro the winner.
Washington has hesitated to call Maduro the legitimate winner of the April 14 poll, and has been joined by the Spain, Panama and Paraguay in asking for a recount. Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and other regional neighbours recognised the results.
Venezuela has recalled its ambassador in Madrid over Spain’s criticism of the poll.
On Tuesday, Maduro accused Washington of directly playing a part in the deadly clashes. “The (US) embassy has financed and led all these violent acts,” Maduro said in a televised speech.
“Anti-imperialist” rhetoric aimed at the United States was one of Chavez’s hallmarks, and broken relations between the two countries seem unlikely to improve in the short term.
During the presidential campaign Maduro expelled two US diplomats, linking them to an alleged plot to assassinate him. Washington and Caracas have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010.
A failed 2002 coup attempt against Chavez was initially recognised by Washington.