Venezuela's Maduro calls for new constitution written by 'people's' body
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Venezuela's beleaguered President Nicolas Maduro on Monday called for a new constitution, to be written by a "people's" body circumventing the opposition-held Congress.
The decree was to "block the fascist coup" threatening the country, he told thousands of supporters in Caracas at a May Day rally.
The new constitution-writing entity would be "a citizen's constituent body, not from political parties -- a people's constituent body," he said.
Maduro's move mirrored that of his late Socialist predecessor Hugo Chavez, who in 1999 had a Constituent Assembly of various representatives draw up Venezuela's current constitution. The text was overwhelmingly passed by a referendum.
The unrest is fuelled by an economic collapse in the oil-producing nation that has caused shortages of food and medicine.
Maduro says the country is being roiled as part of a US-led capitalist plot.
The opposition says Maduro, backed by the military, is ruling in an increasingly dictatorial fashion and only early elections can provide a solution.
Maduro told the May Day crowd that he would submit the application for the new body to write the referendum to the National Electoral Council on Monday.
It urges the election of 500 people to sit on the assembly. Around half would be drawn from sectors of society -- from a "working class base," Maduro said -- directly choosing their representatives, while the other half would be named by local councils across the country.
"It is going to be a Constituent Assembly elected by direct vote by the people," he said.
Venezuela's current constitution permits the president to establish such a body.
"I am giving you the power that Hugo Chavez gave me," Maduro told the crowd. "Go and win this battle."
Anti-government street demonstrations in Venezuela surged from April 1 after the Supreme Court tried to strengthen Maduro's grip on power by stripping authority from the legislature.
Maduro has rejected opposition calls for general elections before his term ends late next year. He has also bristled at what he calls international interference in his country's affairs.
Venezuela last week said it was quitting the Organization of American States after it and other international bodies expressed concern about the country's adherence to democracy.
Another regional bloc, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States is to hold an extraordinary meeting on Venezuela in El Salvador on Tuesday.