Venezuela's Maduro Calls for Constituent Assembly to 'Try to Attain Peace'

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"If protests do get out of hand it opens the door for Maduro's powerful ally, the armed forces, to demand the constitution be respected or take over power to supervise a transition".

A constituent assembly would have the power to call elections and to dissolve other state institutions, potentially giving Maduro an avenue to abolish the opposition-led Congress.

Anti-government protesters set an officer's motorbike on fire and armoured vehicle set aflame were pushed directly into a crowd of demonstrators.

It was not yet clear if that person was the man who died.

"Maduro's attempt to change the constitution could open up an opportunity for many moderates and Chavistas who don't support the government to rally around the project of defending the constitution, thus further eroding Maduro's support base", Torino Capital chief economist Francisco Rodriguez said in an emailed note on May 2.

The late President Hugo Chavez won election in 1998 as a political outsider promising to upset the old order and funnel some of the country's enormous oil wealth to the poor. He has for months been resisting calls for a vote on removing him from office as the country staggers under food shortages, a near-crippled state-run economy and one of the world's highest inflation rates. Some demonstrators threw stones and gasoline bombs and dragged trash into the streets to make barricades. The requests for elections were met with officials in riot gear, water tanks, rubber bullets, tear gas canisters and sometimes even shootings.

He said he would go to the National Electoral Council to launch the procedure for forming the assembly.

"I see congress shaking in its boots before a constitutional convention", Maduro said, referring to the opposition-controlled National Assembly in a speech to his supporters.

Building on a month of large and sustained protests, opposition leaders have vowed more street action after Maduro's announcement on Monday that he was creating a "constituent assembly" empowered to rewrite the constitution.

Vatican-mediated talks came to a stalemate last year after opposition leaders walked out, and the opposition is now demanding snap general elections at least a year ahead of schedule.

The latest push by Maduro to settle an increasingly deadly and contentious political crisis comes as the Trump administration warns it might impose more sanctions on Venezuelan officials.

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The opposition blames Maduro for an economic crisis that has led to shortages of food, medicine and basic goods.

"The [government's] idea is not to consult with the people, but rather for the ruling party itself to choose so as to have a tailor-made constitution", said the deputy speaker of the country's opposition-controlled National Assembly, Freddy Guevara, on Tuesday.

"We view it as a step backwards", said top State department official Michael Fitzpatrick.

The opposition has accused authorities of violently repressing protests. That is, this constitutional assembly is not for a year or for six months.

Conflicting reports of attacks by government-backed thugs or pro-opposition agitators have sown fear among citizens.

Despite the country's chaos, Maduro retains the military's public backing.

The crisis has been fuelled by falling prices for Venezuela's crucial oil exports, but the government has avoided defaulting on its foreign debts so far.

The United States reiterated its concerns for democracy in Venezuela after Maduro's announcement.

An influential group of USA senators filed sweeping legislation on Wednesday to address the crisis in Venezuela, including sanctioning individuals responsible for undermining democracy or involved in corruption.

It would also provide US$10 million (RM43.3 million) for humanitarian aid and US$9.5 million to human rights groups.

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