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'Who do these imperialists in the US think they are?': Venezuelan leader hits back amid protests

The US has issued fresh sanctions freezing the assets of senior Venezuelan officials.

Protesters clash with security forces in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas
Protesters clash with security forces in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas
Image: Fernando Llano/PA Images

VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT NICOLAS Maduro has branded US sanctions leveled at his regime as “insolent,” as pressure piled up on him abroad and at home over his controversial plan to elect a new body to rewrite the constitution.

The US measures came as Venezuela’s opposition began a two-day nationwide strike aimed at ousting the president through early elections.

The deadliness of four months of violent anti-Maduro protests was further confirmed with the death by gunfire of a 30-year-old man in a demonstration in the west of the country.

A 16-year-old boy was also killed during protests. That was the latest in a death toll that has now hit 104.

In Washington, the US Treasury unveiled a list of 13 current and former officials, including the interior minister, senior military brass, the president of the electoral council, and the finance chief of state oil company PDVSA, whose US assets would be frozen.

The opposition and US moves are to force Maduro to give up his plan to have a 545-member Constituent Assembly elected on Sunday.

Critics say the body is a step towards a dictatorship, by bypassing or dissolving the opposition-held National Assembly.

Maduro called the US punishment “illegal, insolent and unprecedented”.

“Who do these imperialists in the United States think they are? The government of the world?” he said in a speech.

But in his country, where there are widespread shortages of basic goods and soaring inflation, protesters are showing their discontent with Maduro’s leadership. Organizers claimed 92% support for the walkout.

“No more dictatorship!” read signs on road barricades in eastern Caracas.

Maduro defiant

Maduro accuses the US of instigating the unrest against him and his government, with the help of the conservative opposition.

The Venezuelan military has declared its loyalty to him.

But some 70% of Venezuelans are opposed to the Constituent Assembly, according to polling firm Datanalisis.

The hardening political struggle has deepened fears that months of street violence could worsen.

The opposition has planned another major demonstration in the capital tomorrow.

Thousands of Venezuelans loaded with heavy bags have crossed the border into Colombia this week, fleeing the unrest.

“The elections are on Sunday and we really don’t know what will happen,” said one, Maria de los Angeles Pichardo, who left with her husband and son. “To be safe, we prefer to cross.”

Ordinary Venezuelans remaining in their country believe ousting Maduro is their only hope for survival.

“We keep getting worse and worse off, with long lines and shortages. I think I’ll strike for 48 hours,” said one Caracas resident, Maria Auxiliadora.

Prominent opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez made a direct appeal to the military early yesterday to withdraw its support from Maduro’s plan, which he called a “constitutional fraud” aimed at eliminating democratic rule.

© – AFP, 2017

Read: ‘We do not want to be Cuba’ – Venezuela’s opposition votes against president

Read: Man stole police helicopter to hurl grenades at Supreme Court, Venezuela says

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