In a speech to supporters in Venezuela’s capital Caracas, President Nicolas Maduro has threatened the seizure of factories that have stopped production, and the jailing of their owners.
Nicolas Maduro said Venezuela had to recover the means of production, to counter its deep economic crisis.
On May 13, the president introduced a new, nationwide state of emergency.
Meanwhile, opposition protesters have been rallying in Caracas to push for a recall vote to eject Nicolas Maduro from power.
The Venezuelan leader said the state of emergency was needed to combat foreign aggression, which he blamed for the country’s problems.
Nicolas Maduro said military exercises would take place next weekend to counter “foreign threats”.
Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves but its economy has been severely hit by falling global oil prices. The country’s economy contracted by 5.7% last year and its official inflation rate is estimated to be topping 180%.
There are severe shortages of food, medicines and basic goods which Nicolas Maduro argues are due to business leaders and the US waging an economic war against his government.
The threat to seize closed factories came after Venezuela’s largest food and beverage company, the Polar Group, halted production of beer, blaming government mismanagement for stopping it importing barley.
The Polar Group’s billionaire owner, Lorenzo Mendoza, is a fierce critic of President Nicolas Maduro.
Nicolas Maduro told supporters at the Caracas rally: “We must take all measures to recover productive capacity, which is being paralyzed by the bourgeoisie.
“Anyone who wants to halt [production] to sabotage the country should get out, and those who do must be handcuffed and sent to the PGV [Venezuelan General Penitentiary].
“We’re going to tell imperialism and the international right that the people are present, with their farm instruments in one hand and a gun in the other… to defend this sacred land.”
On May 13, President Nicolas Maduro declared a full-blown state of emergency, expanding the state of “economic emergency” he had announced in January.
In an address to the nation, Nicolas Maduro said the measures would be in place for three months but would likely be extended over 2017.
The president did not specify if there would be limits to other constitutional rights but he said the decree would provide “a fuller, more comprehensive protection for our people.”
A previous state of emergency was implemented in states near the Colombian border in 2015.
It suspended constitutional guarantees in those areas but did not suspend guarantees related to human rights.
Venezuela’s Minister for Communication and Information Luis Jose Marcano said the state of emergency would allow the government more resources to distribute food, basic goods and medicines.
Luis Jose Marcano added that it also created “mechanisms for the security forces to be able to guarantee public order needed because of the threats by armed groups”.
The opposition has collected and submitted a petition with 1.8 million signatures in favor of a referendum on Nicolas Maduro, but the National Electoral Board (CNE) has so far not verified them.
The verification process was supposed to take five days but 12 days have already elapsed.
Opposition activists say authorities are not letting them proceed to the next stage when they must collect another four million signatures.
Addressing the crowds on May 14, opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said: “We want a country without queues, where we can find medicines. We want change.”
Henrique Capriles described Venezuela as a “time bomb that can explode at any given moment”.
According to the Venezuelan Constitution, if a referendum is held before the end of the year, a recall vote against Nicolas Maduro would trigger new elections.
Venezuelan opposition has held a day of protests to launch a new campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro.
Crowds marched in capital Caracas and other cities to express their anger at Venezuela’s economic crisis and called on the president to stand down.
Nicolas Maduro led a protest in Caracas against the renewal of US sanctions on top Venezuelan officials.
The opposition has made clear it intends to use street power to force Nicolas Maduro from office.
March 12 protests marked the launch of Venezuela’s opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD).
Last week the coalition announced it would use all options available to try to remove Nicolas Maduro, including a recall referendum and a constitutional amendment reducing the presidential term from six to four years.
The opposition won a landslide victory in last December’s elections but it has seen its authority hamstrung by the Supreme Court which it says supports the government.
As a result, the MUD has placed special emphasis on protests as a way to put force Nicolas Maduro’s resignation.
Correspondents say this is a potentially explosive path after anti-government demonstrations in 2014 left 43 people dead. This led to the arrest of a number of opposition leaders on charges of murder and inciting violence.
Nicolas Maduro led his own rally in Caracas, ostensibly against US sanctions and what the government regards as interference in Venezuela’s affairs.
The sanctions were first put in place a year ago after a government crack-down on opposition leaders.
The protests come against the backdrop of a deep economic crisis made worse by the crash in the price of oil which long funded the Chavez and Maduro government’s spending on social welfare.
Venezuela holds the world’s largest crude reserves but its economy contracted 5.7% in 2015.
Students and opposition supporters have joined an anti-Nicolas Maduro rally in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas.
The government deployed hundreds of government security forces to prevent a crowd banging pots and pans from marching towards the food ministry.
There were similar marches in at least five other Venezuelan cities.
In eastern Caracas, police fired tear gas against protesters trying to erect barricades in the streets.
For a month, demonstrators have been complaining about the high levels of violence and shortages of food staples like bread, sugar, milk and butter.
The authorities say 21 people have been killed in the weeks of unrest.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles told the crowd in Caracas that detained students and others must be released before any talks with the government.
The opposition criticized the heavy security operation put in place by the government to prevent the march from reaching the food ministry.
The government said it wanted to contain the march because it “had not been authorized”.
Venezuela demonstrators complaining about the high levels of violence and shortages of food staples
In the eastern Caracas district of Altamira, National Guardsmen clashed with protesters who were setting up a street block.
At least two people have been injured, according to local newspapers.
Peaceful protests have been reported in the cities of Maracaibo, Isla de Margarita, Puerto Ordaz, Valencia and San Cristóbal .
President Nicolas Maduro has repeatedly invited all parties to take part in a “dialogue for peace”.
But during Saturday’s rally, leaders demanded the release of detained students and the suspension of the “repression of the people” before any participation.
Henrique Capriles spoke to thousands of women, students and opposition supporters at the “March of the Empty Pot”, that coincided with the International Women’s Day.
“Let’s transform this protest into the greatest social movement in this country’s history,” Henrique Capriles told the crowd, many banging empty pots as a symbol of the food shortages.
Most of the people supporting opposition protests are reportedly disgruntled Venezuelans from the middle and upper classes.
The opposition leader also repeatedly asked the crowd to refrain from violent acts.
Since February 12, at least 21 people have died in protests, Venezuela’s ombudswoman, Gabriela Ramirez, confirmed on Saturday.
Speaking to reporters in Caracas, Gabriela Ramirez said that members of the security forces were suspects in four cases, 10 allegedly died at street barricades and another five in violent episodes near roadblocks.
Venezuela’s police and National Guard have used tear gas to break up a student demonstration in the capital, Caracas.
Hundreds of protesters were demanding the release of fellow students detained during two weeks of unrest, and called a fresh march for Sunday.
In another part of Caracas, a large pro-government march was held.
Earlier this week, President Nicolas Maduro declared an early start to the week-long Carnival public holiday in an attempt to end the unrest.
On Monday, Venezuela’s Attorney General Luisa Ortega said 13 people had died in the violence, although President Nicolas Maduro put the figure of protest-related deaths at more than 50 on Wednesday.
Despite the start of the long holidays on Thursday, students again gathered in Caracas.
“There’s no Carnival for anybody here. Here we are still on the streets, committed to the fight,” student leader Juan Requesens told EFE news agency.
Their peaceful demonstration ended in clashes with security forces when some masked protesters tried to block a road.
Police and the National Guard used tear gas to break up the protest, while demonstrators hurled stones at them.
Venezuela’s police and National Guard have used tear gas to break up a student demonstration in Caracas
Juan Requesens said there would be a “big march” on Sunday.
At the presidential palace in Caracas, hundreds of Nicolas Maduro’s supporters took part in a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Caracazo, the violent protests against economic measures imposed in 1989 by the government.
There were no reports of other large protests in other parts of Venezuela on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua, who is in Uruguay as part of a regional tour, said he believed the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) would be a better forum to discuss the current political crisis in Venezuela.
Panama had suggested the Organizations of American States (OAS) should discuss the issue, but Venezuela requested the motion to be cancelled.
“UNASUR has been much more efficient on these issues than the OAS. How many coups has the OAS stopped in its existence? On the contrary, it has legitimized many,” Elias Jaua told reporters.
On Wednesday, Nicolas Maduro held a “national peace conference” without the participation of the opposition.
The Roman Catholic church and a major business federation took part in the meeting.
The current unrest started more than two weeks ago with student protests in the western states of Tachira and Merida demanding increased security. They also complained about record inflation and shortages of staple items.
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has said he has proof that Monday’s massive power cut in the capital Caracas and other cities was caused by “right-wing” saboteurs.
Appearing on state TV, Nicolas Maduro showed a picture of what looked like a cut conductor cable.
He said the saboteurs’ aim was to destabilize the country ahead of local elections scheduled for this weekend.
Caracas’ metro ground to a halt and people had to be led out of shops and offices – but power was later restored.
Government opponents say poor maintenance was the likely cause of the blackout.
Power cuts are common in Venezuela, especially in the inland states, but they rarely affect the capital.
Speaking on state TV, Nicolas Maduro said that “we always face these attacks by the right-wing fascists”.
Nicolas Maduro has said he has proof that massive power cut in Caracas and other cities was caused by “right-wing” saboteurs
“They wanted to make me, as president of the republic, decree a state of emergency and suspend the elections.
“Whoever made this criminal attack wanted to leave our Venezuela without electricity for 24 to 48 hours… thinking that would convince people not to continue with the revolution.”
Nicolas Maduro promised to give more details on Wednesday.
He earlier tweeted that the outage had been triggered in the same place as a blackout in September.
The power cut plunged Caracas into darkness after 20:00 on Monday as Nicolas Maduro was addressing the nation on television.
The blackouts did not affect Venezuela’s oil refineries, which are powered by separate generator plants.
Sometimes after the outage, Electricity Minister Jesse Chacon said power had been restored to most of Caracas. He said the blackout had originated in central Venezuela.
The opposition says the governments of President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, have failed to maintain the power grid to meet growing demand, instead resorting to conspiracy theories to divert attention from mismanagement.
Correspondents said that while Caracas was in darkness, people could be heard banging pots – a frequent means of protest.
Thousands of Hugo Chavez’s supporters took to the streets of Caracas to express their grief.
Venezuela has announced seven days of mourning for Hugo Chavez, who has died aged 58 after 14 years as president.
Hugo Chavez had been seriously ill with cancer for more than a year.
A self-proclaimed revolutionary, Hugo Chavez was a controversial figure in Venezuela and on the world stage. A staunch critic of the US, he inspired a left-wing revival across Latin America.
Latin American leaders have begun arriving in Caracas to pay their respects – among them President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina, Jose Mujica of Uruguay and Evo Morales of Bolivia.
Hugo Chavez’s body will be taken in a procession with a mounted escort to the Military Academy in Caracas where it will lie in state until a funeral on Friday.
Military units across the country have fired a 21-gun salute in his honor.
They will fire another cannon shot each hour until he is buried, the armed forces said.
All schools and universities have been shut for the week.
Hugo Chavez’s illness prevented him from taking the oath of office after he was re-elected for a fourth term in October.
Announcing the president’s death on Tuesday, Vice-President Nicolas Maduro called on the nation to close ranks after its leader’s demise.
“Let there be no weakness, no violence. Let there be no hate. In our hearts there should only be one sentiment: Love.”
Police and troops would be deployed nationwide “to guarantee the peace”, Nicolas Maduro added.
Thousands of Hugo Chavez’s supporters took to the streets of Caracas to express their grief
A statement from the military said it would remain loyal to the vice-president and to parliament, it added, urging people to remain calm.
Crowds of supporters gathered outside the Caracas hospital where he died, chanting: “We are all Chavez!”
There were isolated reports of violence after the news, with attackers burning the tents of a group of students who had been demanding more information about Hugo Chavez’s condition. Nobody was injured in the incident.
Vice-President Nicolas Maduro will assume the presidency until an election is called within 30 days.
Foreign Minister Elias Jaua told state television that Nicolas Maduro would also be the candidate of the governing United Socialist Party (PSUV).
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, whom Hugo Chavez defeated in October’s election, called on the government to “act in strict accordance with its constitutional duties”.
Henrique Capriles offered his condolences to Hugo Chavez’s family, saying “we were adversaries, but never enemies”.
The opposition has yet to confirm who will be its official candidate for the presidential election, but Henrique Capriles is widely expected to be chosen to stand against the vice-president.
Nicolas Maduro will probably win the presidential election, but the question remains whether he will be able to lead Venezuela following the loss of its charismatic president.
The exact nature of Hugo Chavez’s cancer was never officially disclosed, leading to continuing speculation about his health, and he had not been seen in public for several months.
Last May, Hugo Chavez, a former army paratrooper, said he had recovered from an unspecified cancer, after undergoing surgery and chemotherapy in 2011 and a further operation in February 2012.
Despite this, Hugo Chavez had most recently won another six-year presidential term in October 2012.
The vice-president has mentioned a plot against Venezuela, saying he had no doubt that Hugo Chavez’s cancer, first diagnosed in 2011, had been induced by foul play by Venezuela’s enemies. The US promptly rejected the accusations as “absurd”.
Nicolas Maduro said a scientific commission could one day investigate whether Hugo Chavez’s illness was brought about by what he called an enemy attack.
Two US diplomats had been expelled from the country for spying on Venezuela’s military, he added.
Hugo Chavez burst onto Venezuela’s national stage in 1992 when he led a failed military coup.
After two years in prison, he returned to politics and was swept to power in a 1998 election.
A self-proclaimed socialist and revolutionary, Hugo Chavez won enduring support among the poor and repeated election victories by using Venezuela’s oil wealth to pursue socialist policies.
His government has implemented a number of “missions” or social programmes, including education and health services for all.
Hugo Chavez’s opponents accused him of mishandling the economy and taking the country towards dictatorship. Inequality has been reduced but growth overall has been lower than in some other Latin American economies.
Internationally, Hugo Chavez was a staunch critic of US “imperialism” and accused Washington of backing a failed coup against him in 2002.
The US described the death as a “challenging time”, reaffirming what it described as its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with Caracas.
Analysts say Hugo Chavez’s death could alter the political balance in Latin America – dealing a blow to leftist states while favoring more centrist countries.
There could also be an economic impact given that Venezuela sells oil at below market prices to some neighboring countries, especially in the Caribbean.
At least 13 people have been killed and another 13 were injured after a petrol tanker crashed bursting into flames and engulfing seven cars and a bus in burning fuel in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas.
Rescue workers have been pulling charred bodies from the scorched vehicles.
The tanker is reported to have flipped over after the driver lost control, spilling petrol that then caught fire. The cause of the accident is still under investigation.
Caracas fire department coordinator William Martinez said the crash sent a river of burning fuel down the Pan-American Highway west of Caracas, engulfing other vehicles.
The flames were so intense that vegetation beside the road also caught fire and nearby houses were threatened before the blaze was brought under control, William Martinez told Venezuelan National Radio.
Survivor Mariana Salas said the bus caught fire in a matter of seconds.
“People started to get out of cars, the traffic was paralyzed, nothing was moving in either direction,” she said.
“Around 15 or 20 of us opened a route through the vegetation and managed to save ourselves.”
President Hugo Chavez expressed dismay at the “lamentable tragedy”.
“I send my prayers to the victims of the accident on the Pan-American Highway. To their families my feelings of sadness and all necessary support,” Hugo Chavez wrote on Twitter.
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