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Venezuela opposition activist shot dead, party says


A local Venezuelan opposition leader was shot dead during a public meeting on Wednesday, his party said, days before a legislative election that is raising tensions around the politically polarized nation.


Armed assailants in a vehicle shot Luis Diaz, head of Democratic Action party in the town of Altagracia de Orituco in central Venezuela, while he was at a meeting with locals, the movement's national leader said.


"He's just been assassinated by gunshot," Henry Ramos tweeted, adding that Diaz was sharing the stage at the time with Lilian Tintori, wife of Venezuela's best-known jailed opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez.


Democratic Action is part of the opposition Democratic Unity coalition about to contest a Dec. 6 election for a new National Assembly in Venezuela.


Polls show the coalition has a good chance of wresting the legislature from the ruling Socialists for the first time in 16 years, which has raised fears of conflict in a nation where politics often creates volatility on the ground.


There was no immediate confirmation of the incident in Altagracia from Venezuelan authorities.


Ramos blamed supporters of the ruling Socialist Party for the killing, without offering any evidence.

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The Latest: Venezuela opposition claims win in elections


Here's the latest on Sunday's important congressional elections in Venezuela (all times local):


10:05 p.m.

Leaders of Venezuela's opposition are saying they won a majority of seats in legislative elections ahead of the announcement of official results.


"Venezuela won," former presidential Henrique Capriles celebrated on Twitter. A source within the anti-government camp told The Associated Press that the coalition believed it had won around 100 seats in the 167-seat legislature.


The National Electoral Council has yet to announce results and the opposition claim could not be confirmed. The ruling socialist party has not commented on the results.

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Venezuelans Are Ready To Finally See What Comes Next After Chavez


At the crack of dawn Sunday, a trumpet-heavy military song used by socialist icon Hugo Chavez to rally supporters on election days blared from a truck near the mausoleum where his body rests. By nighttime, with fireworks filling the pitch-black sky with smoke, a similar truck blared the Venezuelan national anthem in the eastern part of the city.

The two songs, by then, belonged to markedly different chapters of Venezuela’s history.


On Sunday, for the first time since Chavez took office in 1999 and set off an expansive socialist wave across Latin America, the ruling party lost control of the National Assembly. The opposition coalition, known as the Democratic Unity Roundtable, won 99 of the 167 seats, while socialists held onto just 46.


The ruling party lost the state of Barinas, Chavez’s birthplace and one of the most loyal bastions of chavism, in one of the most telling results of the night.


“Change in Venezuela starts today,” said Jesus Chuo Torrealba shortly after midnight Sunday from the opposition headquarters here. “The vote succeeded in democratically trumping an undemocratic government.”


President Nicolas Maduro, who repeated the government campaign slogan “To the National Assembly, whatever it takes” frequently during the last few weeks, admitted defeat early Monday morning. His second-in-command, National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello — one of the most feared men in Venezuela — was more combative.


“If you said you were a chavista and you voted for the opposition, facts will demonstrate your error,” tweeted Cabello. “To loyal chavistas, I give my life for them.”


The opposition’s triumph had been widely expected, with polls giving them a 20% lead in some districts. Still, there were concerns that both sides would take to the streets in case of defeat, possibly unleashing the kind of street violence that left 43 people dead last year.

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BREAKING: Electoral authorities: Venezuela's opposition wins two-thirds supermajority in legislature.
6:13 PM



Venezuelan socialists, opposition spar over legislature TV channel


After a tense run-up to Venezuela's legislative election punctured by nasty swipes and gunshots, the opposition and the leftist government are again locking horns, this time over the National Assembly's tiny television channel.


The victorious Democratic Unity coalition is set to take administrative control of the ANTV channel come January, wresting it from President Nicolas Maduro's ruling Socialists who had maintained a legislative majority for well over a decade.


The opposition won a commanding majority in the National Assembly on Sunday, opening a new chapter in the polarized country's politics.


Newly elected opposition legislator Henry Ramos, rumored to be in line to preside over the assembly, said his bloc would review the "shameful" television channel over what he called a blatant bias toward the ruling party and exclusion of rival politicians.


In one memorable episode, the broadcaster filmed the ceiling during a fistfight in the National Assembly which landed former opposition lawmaker Maria Corina Machado in hospital.


ANTV's web home page features "58 songs by our Supreme Commander Hugo Chavez," who ruled Venezuela until his death from cancer in 2013.

"To use state money, the money of all Venezuelans, and manipulate media as if it were propaganda tools for a political party is not only inelegant, it is also corrupt," said opposition coalition leader Jesus Torrealba at a news conference on Tuesday.


Maduro's government has defended the channel, whose board has warned that its 300 employees might face mass layoffs.


"We've received phone calls at the offices at different times, and they ask: 'Who is here? We're your new bosses, we're coming for you'," said ANTV director Merly Garaicoa.


The opposition has denied the accusations, stressing that it is not interested in persecution or unjustified layoffs, although it does want to overhaul the channel.

"ANTV is going to change," vowed the opposition's Ramos, promising broader coverage and investigation into alleged corruption.

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Venezuela's Maduro says will veto amnesty laws, reshuffle cabinet

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced an imminent cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday after his ruling Socialist Party was crushed in legislative elections, but he vowed to veto opposition plans for an amnesty law for jailed politicians.


Current National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello added that the government would appoint 12 new supreme court judges, among other "tasks," before Dec 31.


The new legislature, two-thirds of which will be made up of opposition politicians, is set to begin work in January.


Venezuela's government was stunned by Sunday's elections, winning just 55 seats against the opposition's 112 and losing control of the National Assembly for the first time since former President Hugo Chavez took office in 1999.


One of the opposition's main aims in the new legislature is to secure the release of jailed politicians, most notably Leopoldo Lopez who was imprisoned for leading anti-government protests in 2014 that triggered violence leading to more than 40 deaths.


Maduro, though, was defiant during a three-hour television appearance on Tuesday night.


"I will not accept any amnesty law, because they violated human rights," Maduro said. "They can send me a thousand laws but the murderers have to be prosecuted and have to pay."


Venezuela's opposition urged Maduro earlier on Tuesday to stop making excuses for his candidates' defeat and instead urgently tackle food shortages and free the jailed politicians.


The worst economic crisis in the OPEC country's recent history has Venezuelan staples including flour, milk, meat and beans running scarce. Shortages are particularly bad for the poor and beyond the capital, Caracas, with shoppers lining up for hours hoping a delivery truck will arrive.

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Venezuela's Maduro limits congressional oversight of central bank


Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Monday eliminated the National Assembly's control over nomination and removal of central bank directors through a legal reform that the opposition slammed as aimed at curtailing its power a day before it takes leadership of the legislature.


Venezuela's opposition trounced the ruling Socialist Party and its allies in legislative elections in December, winning two-thirds of the Congress, in large part due to voter fury over a brutal economic crisis.


In a televised speech Monday night, Maduro said he may ask the National Assembly to approve an "economic emergency."


One of the opposition's key economic aims was to try to overhaul the central bank amid triple-digit inflation, recession and widespread shortages. Opposition lawmakers-elect had vowed to pressure the bank into revealing data on inflation and gross domestic product, neither of which has been published for more than a year.


"The reform is a legal monstrosity to protect a highly questioned president. It goes against the constitution," Jose Guerra, a newly elected opposition lawmaker and a former director of the central bank, wrote on Twitter.


Maduro, in his televised speech, said: "I'm evaluating the strengthening of a strategic plan. ... We are going to activate an emergency plan and reconstruct our economy." He provided no further details.


The law previously required the president to seek the approval of Congress when naming or firing central bank directors. This power now rests in the hands of the president following the change to the law, which was signed on Wednesday.


The outgoing Congress had granted Maduro special powers to legislate by decree until Dec. 31.


The last-minute change also allows the bank to classify data if it is considered a threat to national security or economic stability, and allows it to allocate financing to the state and its institutions without legislative approval.



U.S. says Venezuelan government interfering in new National Assembly


The United States expressed concern on Monday that the Venezuelan government is trying to obstruct the actions of the country's National Assembly, which convenes on Tuesday for its first session with an opposition majority in more than 16 years.


"We are concerned by the Venezuelan government's efforts to interfere with the newly elected National Assembly exercising its constitutionally mandated duties," State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters, without giving details.


President Nicolas Maduro responded saying that Venezuela would "not accept imperialism."


"Why does the State Department and the U.S. government care about the installation of the National Assembly?" Maduro said during a television address on Monday evening.


In a letter to President Barack Obama on Monday, Senator Robert Menendez, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he was deeply troubled by attempts by Maduro's government to "reverse the results" of the National Assembly elections.


Menendez, who sponsored a bill that imposed sanctions against Venezuela in 2014 after a crackdown on political opponents, urged the White House to take further measures to stop Maduro's government from trying to undermine a meaningful political transition in Venezuela.

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Young socialist hardliner will lead Venezuela's economy


President Nicolas Maduro is doubling down on his existing economic policies with the appointment of a young leftist hardliner to head the country's cratering economy, setting the stage for confrontation between the ruling socialist party and the newly powerful opposition.


Luis Salas, the new 39-year-old vice president for the economy, has scant administrative experience, but champions the same theories of price and currency controls that have defined Venezuela's leftist economic policy for 17 years.


Like Maduro, Salas says the country is suffering from the world's worst recession and triple-digit inflation because business interests are colluding with the U.S. to sabotage the economy.


He even goes further than Maduro in arguing that many of the country's problems are the result of being too capitalist.


A professor at the Bolivarian University, an institution created by the late president Hugo Chavez, Salas was relatively unknown before this week. Now, the country is poring over his large body of pamphlets and letters.


"Inflation doesn't exist in real life," he wrote last year.


He added that prices go up not because of scarcity, but because of "capitalist economies that are driven by the desire for personal gain through the exploitation of others; by selfishness."



Venezuela opposition takes control of Congress in rowdy session


Venezuela's opposition took control of Congress for the first time in 16 years on Tuesday in a rowdy session, setting up a power struggle with President Nicolas Maduro amid a worsening economic crisis.


The Democratic Unity coalition won a two-thirds majority in December's legislative election by capitalizing on anger over a shrinking economy, soaring prices and chronic product shortages reminiscent of Soviet-bloc economies.


Maduro dismissed the new assembly as "right-wing" and filled with "dinosaurs" and said a cabinet change first announced a month ago would take place on Wednesday to shore up the leftist movement founded by late president Hugo Chavez.


Veteran opposition legislator Henry Ramos was elected the new head of Congress in a session in which the two sides chanted slogans at one another and traded charges of corruption and betrayal.


"What did we offer in our campaign? To recover the autonomy of the legislative branch," said Ramos in his opening speech to Congress. "This has been the loudspeaker of the presidential palace, the echo chamber of the executive branch."


Venezuela's frustrated opposition supporters were glued to television and radio sets, delighted as they watched top Socialist Party leaders being publicly accused of corruption and mismanagement.


Ramos flaunted the opposition's newfound control over the legislature by abruptly cutting off one Socialist Party deputy's diatribe against the opposition, saying he had run out of time.


When heckled by another socialist deputy over a procedural complaint, Ramos brushed him aside by saying "Take it easy, congressman, things have changed here."


Reporters interviewed deputies and walked freely on the floor of Congress for the first time in years, a practice that had been prohibited by the socialist leadership.


A portrait of Chavez that hung in the main congressional chamber, a symbol of what critics call illegal politicization of public institutions, was removed.

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Venezuela electoral body hinders opposition push to remove Maduro


Venezuela's electoral board said it was the only body allowed to reform referendum rules governing removal of the country's president, throwing cold water on opposition plans to recall President Nicolas Maduro amid an economic crisis.


The opposition, which won control of the National Assembly in a December election, says removing Maduro is the only way to avoid a severe recession, product shortages and triple-digit inflation from worsening.


It is trying to push through a law accelerating the process to hold a referendum so the vote can happen this year.


Maduro, 53, says the opposition is planning a coup and has vowed to stay in office until his term ends in 2019.


He got a boost from the National Electoral Council, or CNE, widely seen as aligned with his leftist government.


The opposition's proposed new referendum law "is being undertaken outside the constitutional framework," CNE President Tibisay Lucena said in a letter sent on Monday to the head of the National Assembly.


The assembly's president, Henry Ramos, said on Tuesday the opposition would press on with plans for a recall referendum, one of several strategies it is eyeing to remove Maduro, who won a 2013 election to replace the late Hugo Chavez.


Just under two-thirds of Venezuelans think Maduro's presidency should end this year, a survey by a leading pollster said last month

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Venezuela's top court strikes down opposition-backed amnesty law


Venezuela's top court on Monday struck down an amnesty law approved last month by the opposition-dominated Congress, scuttling an effort by critics of President Nicolas Maduro to secure the release of jailed opposition activists.


The supreme court's constitutional chamber ruled that the law violated constitutional principles because it promoted impunity and offered amnesty for crimes that were not eligible for such treatment.


"This impunity law cannot pass," said Maduro, who had vowed to veto it, in a televised broadcast minutes before the court's decision was released. "If we want peace, that law cannot pass."


The court has repeatedly backed Maduro in his disputes with the legislature following the opposition's blowout victory in December polls that gave it a two-thirds majority of seats.


Opposition leaders accuse Maduro of using allies in the courts to run roughshod over the assembly, noting that ruling Socialist Party legislators used lame-duck sessions late last year to name party militants to the bench.


"The autonomy of the legislative branch is not up for discussion, and for that reason #Amnestyislaw," wrote the National Assembly's leadership via the institution's official Twitter account. The tweet includes a link to a petition demanding the law's enactment.


Opposition leaders had promoted the law to benefit high-profile government adversaries, including Leopoldo Lopez, who was arrested in 2014 on accusations that he helped spur a wave of demonstrations that ultimately left more than 40 people dead.

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Venezuela moves forward time zone 30 min to save power


Venezuela will shift its time zone forward 30 minutes in order to save electricity and ease a power shortage caused by drying of its hydroelectric dams, a minister said Friday.


On May 1 the country will turn the clock forward to four hours behind Greenwich Mean Time, from four-and-a-half hours currently, said Science and Technology Minister Jorge Arreaza.


That will effectively lengthen the hours of daylight.


It is the latest measure taken to cope with an electricity shortage due to low water levels blamed on the El Nino weather phenomenon.


President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday also declared this Monday a public-sector holiday in a further measure to save energy.


He had last week given the public sector every Friday off until June 6.


The government says the nation's 18 hydroelectric dams have been hit by drought. The opposition accuses it of failing to invest in the water system to keep up with demand.


He said the Monday holiday would create an "electricity-saving long weekend."

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Venezuela to ration electricity in 10 states


Recession-wracked Venezuela is to ration electricity in 10 of its most populous and industrialized states, including metropolitan Caracas, the socialist government said.


It is the latest drastic measure to alleviate a severe electricity crisis which President Nicolas Maduro and his government blame on the El Nino weather phenomenon but whose critics say is the result of economic mismanagement.


Luis Motta Dominguez, minister for electric power, made the announcement during a televised broadcast and said further details would be released in the coming days.


Maduro is under growing pressure from the center-right opposition, which vowed to oust him when it took control of the legislature in January after winning elections, blaming him for the crippling economic crisis.


Venezuela's economy has plunged along with the price of the oil on which it relies for foreign revenues. Shortages of medicines and goods such as toilet paper and cooking oil are widespread.


Maduro blames the collapse on an "economic war" by capitalists.

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Seems they're really getting desperate in Venezuela



Venezuela decrees two-day week for public sector to save energy


Venezuela's socialist government ordered public workers on Tuesday to work a two-day week as an energy-saving measure in the crisis-hit South American OPEC country.


President Nicolas Maduro had already given most of Venezuela's 2.8 million state employees Fridays off during April and May to cut down on electricity consumption.


"We have decided to add Wednesdays and Thursdays as non-working days off for the public sector," Vice President Aristobulo Isturiz told state TV during a visit to the Guri dam and hydroelectric plant in south Venezuela.


Workers will be paid for the days they are not on the job because of the government action.


The government is excluding workers in sensitive sectors, such as food. Schools will also close on Fridays.

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Venezuela Hikes Minimum Wage 30 Percent Amid Economic Crunch


Venezuela's president is ordering a 30 percent increase in the minimum wage, the latest move by the socialist government to grapple with high inflation and economic stagnation.


The boost announced Saturday night by President Nicolas Maduro comes after a 25 percent increase on March 1.


The new increase is effective Sunday, which is International Labor Day, and will push the minimum wage to 15,051 bolivars a month. That is about $1,500 at the official exchange rate, but is around $50 at the current black market rate, which largely sets prices of goods for Venezuelans.


Venezuela's oil export-dependent economy shrank 5.7 percent last year, shortages of basic goods multiplied and prices soared. The government has instituted rolling blackouts and state employees are working only two days a week to conserve electricity.

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Nearly 2 million sign on for Maduro recall: opposition


Venezuela's opposition presented reams of signatures to election authorities Monday calling for a referendum to remove President Nicolas Maduro, whom it blames for the country's crushing economic crisis.


Venezuelans fed up with food shortages, soaring inflation and now a paralyzing electricity crunch have flocked to sign a petition for a recall referendum, according to the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD).


It said it had presented 1.85 million signatures -- more than nine times the number needed to launch the referendum process -- to the National Electoral Board.

MUD executive secretary Jesus Torrealba said 80 boxes packed with referendum petitions had been presented to the authorities.


However, board official Tania D'Amelio suggested Sunday on Twitter that the authorities might not start verifying the signatures until late May.


That drew opposition cries of bias in favor of Maduro and the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).


"There's no doubt about it... Tania D'Amelio is a supporter and unconditional activist of the PSUV and is working to prevent a recall referendum this year," said Henry Ramos Allup, the speaker of the opposition-controlled legislature.


Opponents are racing to hold a recall referendum before the end of the year.


Under Venezuela's constitution, after January 2017 a successful recall vote would transfer power to Maduro's vice president rather than trigger new elections.


The constitution gives the authorities five days to verify the signatures collected by the opposition.


But D'Amelio indicated that the five-day countdown would begin only once the full 30 days allotted for circulating the petition had lapsed.


The opposition insists there is no need to wait until the end of the 30-day period because it already surpassed the required 200,000 signatures "in record time."


If the electoral board accepts the signatures as valid -- far from a sure bet -- the opposition will then have to collect four million more for the board to organize the vote.

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Venezuela president declares emergency, cites U.S., domestic 'threats'


Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro declared a 60-day state of emergency on Friday due to what he called plots from within the OPEC country and the United States to topple his leftist government.


Maduro did not provide details of the measure. A previous state of emergency, implemented in states near the Colombian border last year, suspended constitutional guarantees in those areas, except for guarantees relating to human rights.


Earlier on Friday, U.S. intelligence officials told reporters they were increasingly worried about the potential for an economic and political meltdown in Venezuela and predicted Maduro was not likely to complete his term.


Venezuela's opposition is seeking to recall the unpopular leader, 53, amid a worsening crisis that includes food and medicine shortages, frequent power cuts, sporadic looting and galloping inflation.


But the former union leader and bus driver has vowed to stick out his term, and accuses the United States of fomenting an undercover coup against him. He pointed to this week's impeachment of fellow leftist Dilma Rousseff in Brazil as a sign that he is next.


"Washington is activating measures at the request of Venezuela's fascist right, who are emboldened by the coup in Brazil," Maduro said during a Friday night broadcast on state television.

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U.S. intelligence warns of Venezuela collapse


With dire shortages of basic goods, a looming foreign debt payment, horrific street crime and intransigent political divisions, Venezuela is in danger of collapsing into waves of deadly violence, U.S. intelligence officials warned Friday.


Venezuela, which controls the world's largest reserves of crude oil, is in the throes of a potentially explosive political stalemate after opposition parties gained a majority in the national congress in elections late last year.


President Nicolas Maduro, a leftist, faces a possible recall vote sponsored by the opposition that he is maneuvering to block.


All portends a dilemma for U.S. policy makers concerned about the ripples of more violence, but with few options to change the course of events.


"The goal now is to mitigate the crisis that is unfolding," a senior U.S. intelligence official said Friday, briefing a small group of reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss internal assessments. "You can hear the ice cracking."


The Obama administration has slapped sanctions on a number of Venezuelan individuals linked to human rights abuses, and the Senate last month voted to extend the sanctions, which include denial of visas, until 2019.


Under the sanctions, the Treasury Department also can move to seize some Venezuelan assets in the U.S.


But Washington has little direct influence in the country, which has been ruled by anti-American socialists since the late Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999.


Maduro, a former bus driver and Chavez's hand-picked successor, was elected to a six-year term in 2013, a month after the more charismatic Chavez died.


"The more the U.S. intervenes," the U.S. official said, "the more we are seen as the problem."


Recent polls have shown Maduro's approval ratings have dropped as low as 15%, with a majority of Venezuelans blaming him for the country's crisis and wanting to see his term truncated.



BREAKING Maduro orders seizure of closed Venezuela factories, jailing of owners
4:40 PM
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