North Korea sends clear message to Washington by launch of ICBM, “We will Nuke America if it makes wrong decision” and declares close relations with China


Important Takeaways:

  • North Korea’s Dictator Kim Jong-Un Sends a Dire Threat: ‘We Will Nuke America if It Makes Wrong Decision’
  • North Korean Communist leader Kim Jong-un announced via state media on Wednesday that firing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was essential to “clearly show what action the DPRK [North Korea] has been prepared and what option the DPRK would take when Washington makes a wrong decision against it.”
  • Kim’s comments were paraphrased in an article by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the main propaganda channel of the North Korean government.
  • … The missile in question was identified as the “Hwasong-18,” North Korea’s most recent publicly disclosed model. Pyongyang introduced the Hwasong-18 in July, asserting its capability to precisely target any location in the continental United States with a nuclear payload.
  • On the very day, North Korea proudly announced Deputy Foreign Minister Pak Myong Ho’s visit to Beijing, the country also fired off an ICBM. According to reports, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warmly welcomed Pak and pledged ongoing support from the Chinese Communist Party for the neighboring rogue regime.

Read the original article by clicking here.

Takeaways from Summit meeting between Biden and Xi


Important Takeaways:

  • US-China Summit Turns Sour as Biden Calls Xi ‘Dictator’, China Vows to Take Over Taiwan
  • The summit began with the two leaders taking a much friendlier tone after months of rising tensions, with President Biden sounding optimistic.
  • They agreed on a new push to crack down on the export of the deadly drug fentanyl from China to the US.
  • President Xi Jinping said China is ready to be a partner and friend of the United States.
  • China could use a friend. Foreign businesses and capital have been fleeing China at a record pace.
  • The two leaders also agreed to resume military-to-military communications, after they were cut off last year following then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan.
  • Things got hotter when a reporter asked the president if he would still refer to Xi as a “dictator.”
  • Biden answered, “Well, look, he is, in that he’s a dictator who runs a country that is a communist country that’s based on a form of government that is completely different from ours.”
  • The Chinese government responded swiftly and forcefully calling the “dictator” label “extremely wrong” and vowing China would be “unstoppable” in eventually retaking Taiwan, something President Biden has vowed to stand against.

Read the original article by clicking here.

Defiant Belarus leader shrugs off sanctions, says athlete was ‘manipulated’

By Natalia Zinets, William James and Elizabeth Piper

KYIV/LONDON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A defiant President Alexander Lukashenko said on Monday a Belarusian sprinter defected at the Olympic Games only because she had been “manipulated” by outside forces and shrugged off a coordinated barrage of new Western sanctions.

At an hours-long news conference on the anniversary of an election which opponents said was rigged so that he could win, Lukashenko denied being a dictator and said he had defended Belarus against opponents plotting a coup.

As he spoke in his presidential palace in Minsk, Britain, Canada and the United States announced coordinated sanctions targeting the Belarusian economy and its financial sector, including exports of oil products and potash, which is used in fertilizers and is Belarus’ main foreign currency earner.

Lukashenko said Britain would “choke” on its measures and he was ready for talks with the West instead of a sanctions war.

Lukashenko said he had won the presidential election fairly on Aug. 9, 2020 and that some people had been “preparing for a fair election, while others were calling … for a coup d’état.”

Tens of thousands of people joined street protests in 2020 – Lukashenko’s biggest challenge since he became president in 1994. He responded with a crackdown in which many opponents have been arrested or gone into exile. They deny planning a coup.

Dismissing accusations that he is a dictator, he said: “In order to dictate – I am a completely sane person – you need to have the appropriate resources. I have never dictated anything to anyone and I am not going to.”

Belarus has again been in the international spotlight since sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya fled to Warsaw last week following a dispute with her coaches in which she said an order came from “high up” to send her home from Tokyo.

“She wouldn’t do it herself, she was manipulated. It was from Japan, from Tokyo, that she contacted her buddies in Poland and they told her – literally – when you come to the airport, run to a Japanese police officer and shout that those who dropped her off at the airport are KGB agents,” Lukashenko said.

“There was not a single special service agent in Japan.”


Lukashenko, 66, has kept power with political support and financial backing from Russia, which sees Belarus as a buffer state against the NATO military alliance and the European Union.

Belarus would respond if necessary to sanctions pressure but “there is no need to take up the sanction axes and pitchforks,” he said.

Western countries announcing sanctions cited violations of human rights and election fraud. U.S. President Joe Biden decried what he called a “brutal campaign of repression to stifle dissent.”

“…The actions of the Lukashenka regime are an illegitimate effort to hold on to power at any price. It is the responsibility of all those who care about human rights, free and fair elections, and freedom of expression to stand against this oppression,” Biden said.

Biden’s executive order allows the United States to block people doing business with a wide range of Belarusian officials and others involved in activities in the country regarded as corrupt. It also restricts the transfer of their property in the United States and their travel to the country.

The British sanctions also prohibited the purchase of transferable securities and money-market instruments issued by the Belarusian state and state-owned banks. Canada unveiled similar action.

Previous sanctions, including by the EU, have not persuaded Lukashenko to change course.

“While we take it with patience, let’s sit down at the negotiating table and start talking about how to get out of this situation, because we will get bogged down in it with no way back,” Lukashenko said.

Tensions with Western powers hit new heights after Belarus forced a plane to land in Minsk in May and arrested a dissident Belarusian journalist who was on board.

Separately, neighboring Lithuania and Poland accuse Belarus of trying to engineer a migrant crisis in retaliation for EU sanctions.

Poland reported a record number of migrants had crossed the border from Belarus since Friday, saying they were probably from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lukashenko says Lithuania and Poland are to blame.

He also denied involvement in the death last week of Vitaly Shishov, who led a Kyiv-based organization that helps Belarusians fleeing persecution. Shishov was found hanged in Kyiv.

Lukashenko’s opponents say there are now more than 600 political prisoners in jail.

“Sanctions are not a silver bullet, but they will help stop the repression,” exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said in Vilnius.

(Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington, Gwladys Fouche in Oslo, Tom Balmforth, Katya Golubkova and Olzhas Auyezov in Moscow, Elizabeth Piper and William James in London, Alan Charlish in Warsaw; Writing by Matthias Williams and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Giles Elgood)

Venezuela captures rogue officers after uprising at military outpost

Demonstrators stand close to the remains of a burning car used as barricade during a protest near to a National Guard outpost in Caracas, Venezuela January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Mayela Armas and Brian Ellsworth

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela has captured a group of military officers who stole weapons and kidnapped four officials on Monday, the government said, hours after a social media video showed a sergeant demanding the removal of President Nicolas Maduro.

An unspecified number of officers early on Monday attacked a National Guard outpost in the Caracas neighborhood of Cotiza, a kilometer (0.6 mile) from the presidential Miraflores palace, where they met “firm resistance,” the government said in a statement. Witnesses reported hearing gunshots at about 3 a.m. (0700 GMT) in the area.

An armored vehicle is seen outside an outpost of the Venezuelan National Guards during a protest in Caracas, Venezuela January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

An armored vehicle is seen outside an outpost of the Venezuelan National Guards during a protest in Caracas, Venezuela January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Protesters later burned trash and a car outside the outpost, where the officers were arrested, in a sign of growing tensions following Maduro’s inauguration to a second term that governments around the world have called illegitimate.

Though the incident signals discontent within the armed forces, it appeared to involve only low-ranking officers with little capacity to force change in the hyperinflationary economy as many people suffer from shortages of food and medicine.

“The armed forces categorically reject this type of action, which is most certainly motivated by the dark interests of the extreme right,” the government said in a statement read out on state television.

Maduro was inaugurated on Jan. 10 under an avalanche of criticism that his leadership was illegitimate following a 2018 election widely viewed as fraudulent, with countries around the world disavowing his government.

Opposition leaders and exiled dissidents have called on the armed forces to turn against Maduro, which the president has denounced as efforts to encourage a coup against him.

The opposition-controlled congress’s head, Juan Guaido, said the uprising was a sign of the armed forces’ depressed state of mind. Congress was committed to offering guarantees to officers who helped with “the constitution’s reconstitution,” he said, though he did not want the military to fall into internal conflict.

“We want it to stand as one man on the side of the people, the constitution, and against the usurpation,” he said on Twitter.

In the videos that circulated on Twitter, a group of armed soldiers stood in darkness apparently at the Cotiza outpost while their leader addressed the camera and called for Venezuelans to support their revolt.

“You all asked that we take to the streets to defend the constitution. Here we are. Here we have the troops. It’s today when the people come out to support us,” said the man in the video, who identified himself as Luis Bandres.

The government said the men took two vehicles from a police station in the Macarao district in the west of Caracas before driving to a barracks in the eastern Petare slum, where they stole an arms cache and kidnapped four officials.

After they attacked the Cotiza outpost in the early hours of the morning, security forces surrounded them. In response, several dozen residents barricaded streets and set fire to rubbish as they chanted “Don’t hand yourself in,” according to Reuters witnesses. Troops fired tear gas to disperse them.

“These soldiers are right to rise up. We need a political change, because we don’t have any water or electricity,” said Angel Rivas, a 49-year-old laborer at the protest.

The United States and many Latin American nations say Maduro has become a dictator whose failed state-led policies have plunged Venezuela into its worst ever economic crisis, with inflation approaching 2 million percent.

Maduro says a U.S.-directed “economic war” is trying to force him from power.

(Additional reporting by Vivian Sequera and Corina Pons; Writing by Brian Ellsworth and Angus Berwick; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Germany removes golden statue of Erdogan after protests

People stand near a statue of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during the art exhibition "Wiesbaden Biennale" in Wiesbaden, Germany, August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

BERLIN (Reuters) – German firemen on Wednesday removed a golden statue of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on security grounds after it provoked an angry response from local people.

Organizers of an arts festival whose theme this year is “Bad News” had installed the four-meter statue of Erdogan, with one arm outstretched, on a plinth in the central Square of German Unity in the western town of Wiesbaden on Monday.

But the statue got daubed with graffiti, including the slogan “Turkish Hitler”, German media reported, and a few hundred residents had protested against it.

Police said they could no longer guarantee people’s safety so firemen used a large crane to take away the statue under the cover of darkness in the early hours of Wednesday.

Some three million people with Turkish roots live in Germany and Erdogan, who in June won re-election with expanded powers, is due to make a state visit to Berlin on September 28-29 as part of efforts to improve relations strained by years of disagreement on a range of issues.

Germany condemned Turkey’s arrest of some 50,000 people and the suspension or firing of 150,000 others including teachers, judges and soldiers, after a failed coup against Erdogan in 2016. Berlin says the crackdown was excessive and harmed basic freedoms. Ankara says it acted to safeguard national security.

“It is certainly appropriate to conceive of Erdogan as a controversial figure, and one that we are allowed to discuss freely here in this country,” the director of the biennial festival, Uwe Eric Laufenberg, told Reuters when the statue was erected on Monday.

“We can have a discussion about this statue and this man.”

While some residents liked the statue, others objected.

“This is a man who has hundreds of people on his conscience… because he has lied and bought his way to power. He’s a dictator,” said resident Werner Starotsta.

(Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Turkey’s Erdogan takes legal action after lawmaker calls him ‘fascist dictator’

Turkey's Erdogan takes legal action after lawmaker calls him 'fascist dictator'

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan filed a criminal complaint against a prominent opposition lawmaker on Tuesday, one of Erdogan’s lawyers said, after the deputy called the Turkish leader a fascist dictator.

In blistering criticism of Erdogan, the spokesman for the main opposition Republican People’s Party, Bulent Tezcan, attacked what he said was a “fearful atmosphere” in Turkey.

Erdogan’s lawyer, Huseyin Aydin, said on Twitter: “We have filed a legal petition concerning Bulent Tezcan with the Ankara chief prosecutor’s office for the crime of insulting the president.” Aydin also posted photos of the petition.

“The suspect’s statements are part of a new campaign against our president and cannot be interpreted as an isolated incident,” the petition said, saying such a campaign had also been launched ahead of last year’s attempted coup.

In a speech on Monday in the western city of Tekirdag, criticizing local judicial authorities, Tezcan had said: “If you try to scare people and to create a fearful atmosphere by showing legal words as illegal ones we will not be deterred.”

His comments appeared to be in defense of the local mayor, a CHP member, who was questioned by authorities this month after he reportedly called Erdogan a “dictator” at a party congress.

“I don’t know if our mayor said that or not. I, here in Tekirdag, say it now: ‘Erdogan is a fascist dictator’,” Tezcan said.

His comments prompted a swift backlash from Erdogan’s office and lawmakers from his ruling AK Party, with Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin saying his “hate speech is an example of disgrace for the main opposition”.

Insulting the president is a crime punishable by up to four years in prison in Turkey.

Lawyers for Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade, have filed more than 1,800 cases against people including cartoonists, a former Miss Turkey winner and school children on accusations of insulting him.

Following the failed coup of July 15 last year, Erdogan said he would drop outstanding suits, in a one-off gesture.

Nonetheless, rights groups and some Western governments have voiced concern that Turkey is sliding toward authoritarianism. Some 150,000 people have been sacked or suspended from their jobs and more than 50,000 jailed pending trial on suspicion of links to the failed coup.

Erdogan says such measures are necessary to ensure stability and defend Turkey from multiple security threats.


(Reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Paul Tait and David Dolan)


Venezuela jails opposition leaders in new crackdown on opponents

Venezuela jails opposition leaders in new crackdown on opponents

By Corina Pons and Alexandra Ulmer

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela jailed two leading critics of President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday in a fresh blow to the opposition after the election of a new political body with sweeping powers to strengthen the hand of the leftist government.

The United States imposed sanctions on Maduro on Monday, calling him a “dictator” for Sunday’s election of a constituent assembly that the opposition boycotted and denounced as an affront to democracy.

In a statement announcing the jailing of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and veteran politician Antonio Ledezma, the pro-government Supreme Court said they were planning to flee the country and had violated terms of their house arrest by making political statements and speaking to media.

But government opponents called the abrupt removal of the men from their homes by security forces in nighttime raids a sign of Maduro’s determination to silence rivals. It was a view shared by U.S. President Donald Trump, who issued a statement condemning “the actions of the Maduro dictatorship.”

“Mr. Lopez and Mr. Ledezma are political prisoners being held illegally by the regime,” it said, calling “for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners.”

About 120 people have been killed in more than four months of anti-government street protests, including at least 10 during Sunday’s vote.

Maduro says the constituent assembly was designed to restore peace to Venezuela. Lopez and Ledezma had called for protests against Sunday’s vote. In addition to rewriting the constitution, the legislative superbody will have the power to dissolve the opposition-led congress, eliminating any institutional check on Maduro’s powers.

Lopez had been held more than three years in a military jail until last month, when he was unexpectedly released in what was seen as a potential breakthrough in the country’s political standoff.

Attempts to get the opposition and the government to reach a negotiated deal subsequently floundered, however, and allies said Lopez, 46, may have been jailed again because he rejected government proposals.

“They have kidnapped Leopoldo Lopez because he simply would not break under the pressures and false promises of the regime,” said Freddy Guevara, a legislator in the Popular Will party led by Lopez.

A U.S.-educated economist and former mayor in Caracas, Lopez is beloved by some in the opposition for his hard line anti-government stance and has become an international cause celebre.

The government sees him as an elitist coup-monger, and even some opposition sympathizers have criticized him for being hot-headed and authoritarian.

In a sign of heightening tensions, Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz said Beatriz Ruiz and Jose Fernando Nunez, both recently appointed judges of an alternative Supreme Court by the opposition parliament, took refuge in Chile’s embassy in Caracas on Tuesday and may be granted political asylum.

The U.S. Congress, meanwhile, mulled possible additional measures aimed at influencing Maduro. Senator Ben Cardin, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Monday’s sanctions against the Venezuelan leader were not enough, and that punitive economic measures targeting the country’s vital oil sector may be in order.

The United States is Venezuela’s No. 1 crude importer. Actions targeting Venezuelan oil would likely heap more damage onto an economy already suffering from a deep recession, food shortages and the world’s highest inflation rate.

“Our objective needs to be to help the people of Venezuela through this extremely dangerous humanitarian crisis … and ultimately to get Venezuela back on a democratic path,” Cardin said.


Lopez himself suspected he would be detained again, and had recorded a video alongside his wife Lilian Tintori in which he urged Venezuelans to keep fighting if he was put back behind bars.

“If you’re seeing this video it’s precisely because that’s what happened, they jailed me again, illegally and unjustly,” said Lopez, in the video shown on social media on Tuesday.

Blamed by many for rising poverty in Venezuela, Maduro has faced almost daily protests demanding freedom for jailed politicians, early elections to replace him and permitted entry of humanitarian aid such as food and medicines.

Lopez and Ledezma were both taken from their homes to Ramo Verde, a military jail in a slum area about an hour’s drive from the capital, according to lawyers and family.

Lopez was originally arrested for his role in leading street demonstrations against Maduro. Ledezma, a 62-year-old veteran politician, had been arrested on charges of plotting a coup.

Condemnation of Tuesday’s arrests also came from the United Nations human rights chief, the president of the European Parliament and other governments.

“We express our solidarity with Leopoldo Lopez, Antonio Ledezma and other political prisoners in Venezuela,” Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said on Twitter.

(Additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth, Eyanir Chinea, Diego Ore, Hugh Bronstein, Fabian Cambero and Andreina Aponte in Caracas, Tom Miles in Geneva, Sarah White in Madrid, Patricia Zengerle and Yeganeh Torbati in Washington D.C., Mitra Taj in Lima, Adriana Barrera in Mexico City and Robert-Jan Bartunek in Brussels; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer and Brian Ellsworth; Editing by W Simon and Tom Brown)

Turkish opposition leader accuses ‘dictator’ Erdogan of judicial interference

FILE PHOTO: Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu walks during a protest, dubbed "justice march", against the detention of his party's lawmaker Enis Berberoglu, on the outskirts of Ankara, Turkey June 17, 2017. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File Photo

By Gulsen Solaker

CAMLIDERE, Turkey (Reuters) – Turkey’s main opposition leader accused President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday of meddling in the judiciary and called him a “dictator”, as he extended his cross-country protest march against the jailing of a parliamentary ally into a sixth day.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, 68, head of the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), set out last week from the capital Ankara on a 425-km (265-mile) march to Istanbul after fellow party member Enis Berberoglu was jailed for 25 years on spying charges.

Berberoglu was the first CHP lawmaker to be imprisoned in a government crackdown that followed the abortive military coup in July 2016. More than 50,000 people have been jailed and more than 150,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs.

“I will always be on the side of justice. If someone tells me my rights are a favor, I will speak of his dictatorship. I say you (Erdogan) are a dictator,” Kilicdaroglu said in a speech after stopping at a national park near Camlidere, a rural area about 100 km outside of Ankara.

His comments were an apparent response to criticism from Erdogan over the weekend in which the president said justice should be sought in parliament and the CHP was only being allowed to march as a favor from the government.

Erdogan has likened the protesters who came out in support of Kilicdaroglu in Ankara and Istanbul to those who carried out the attempted coup, and said, “You should not be surprised if you receive an invitation from the judiciary.”

Kilicdaroglu responded on Tuesday by accusing the president of attempting to influence the judiciary. “If I prove that your government sends notices to the courts and gives them orders, will you resign your post like an honorable man?” he said.

Rights groups and government critics, including members of Kilicdaroglu’s CHP, say Turkey has been sliding toward authoritarianism since the coup bid. The government says its crackdown is necessary given vast security threats it is facing.

“I have been participating in the march since the beginning,” said one woman, 59, who declined to give her name. “We want justice for our children. This is the only reason we are marching.”

The slight, bespectacled Kilicdaroglu has so far clocked up a little more than 100 km, trudging along a highway westwards from Ankara and at times carrying a sign that says “Justice”.

CHP officials said he was eating only soup in the morning and over the course of the day the same food given to the roughly 1,000 other supporters marching with him.

He alternates between two pairs of trainers and at night massages his feet with salt to soothe the swelling. He sleeps overnight in a caravan specially prepared for him.

Kilicdaroglu, who aims to march to the jail where Berberoglu is being held, on Tuesday condemned the government’s purges, naming academics he said had been stripped of their posts for no reason and asking why journalists were being jailed.

Some 160 journalists are imprisoned in Turkey, according to the journalists union, and authorities have shut down 130 media outlets since the failed coup.

“Shoulder-to-shoulder against fascism,” and “justice, justice” chanted the crowd of around 1,000 on a hillside who listened to his speech. Some carried a banner that said: “You’ll never walk alone”.

The march is expected to last around 25 days, with participants walking some 16-20 km daily.

(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Daren Butler)

Venezuelan opposition to hold ‘mother of all marches’ against Maduro

FILE PHOTO: An opposition supporter waves a Venezuelan flag during a gathering against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Brian Ellsworth and Diego Oré

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s opposition says it will stage the “mother of all marches” on Wednesday, accusing President Nicolas Maduro of resorting to dictatorial measures to quash popular outrage over a deepening economic crisis.

In the culmination of a fortnight of violent demonstrations that killed five people, marchers around the country will demand the government present a timeline for delayed elections, halt a security crackdown on protests, and respect the autonomy of the opposition-led legislature.

Maduro, who says recent protests have been little more than opposition efforts to foment violence and topple his government, has called on sympathizers of the ruling Socialist Party to hold a competing march in Caracas.

“This is a government in its terminal phase,” two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles told Reuters on Tuesday evening.

“This is going to escalate … and force Maduro, and his regime, to hold free and democratic elections.”

Venezuelans have for years been furious about a collapsing economy in which basic food products are a struggle to obtain and triple-digit inflation is steadily eroding consumer spending power.

But a Supreme Court decision in March to assume the powers of the opposition-led Congress sparked a wave of protests that have not ebbed, even though the court has partly reversed the measure in the face of international condemnation.

Further spurring outrage was a decision by the national comptroller’s office earlier this month to disqualify Capriles from holding office for 15 years, dashing his hopes for the presidency.

The elections council, which is sympathetic to the government, has delayed votes for state governors which were supposed to take place last year. The opposition says this is because the ruling Socialist Party is likely to fare poorly in such a vote.


Eleven Latin American countries issued a joint statement this week calling on authorities to set a time frame for elections to “allow for a quick solution to the crisis that Venezuela is living through.”

Marches have repeatedly ended in clashes between demonstrators and security forces, with rock-throwing youths squaring off against tear-gas-lobbing security forces in confused melees that drag on well into the evening.

The opposition will congregate at more than two dozen meeting points around Caracas and attempt to converge on the office of the state ombudsman, a guarantor of human rights.

Previous efforts to march there have been blocked by the National Guard, resulting in clashes. As has become common in recent weeks on protest days, Venezuelan authorities will close 27 metro stations and likely set up checkpoints to slow entry to the city.

Socialist Party officials dismiss the opposition marches as efforts to destabilize the government, pointing to protester barricades and vandalism, and have called on supporters to rally around Maduro.

“The great Chavista mobilization toward Caracas has begun,” wrote Socialist Party Vice President Diosdado Cabello on Twitter, referring to late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.

“Let’s all go conquer the peace, defend the fatherland, the constitution, the revolution.”

But pro-government marches no longer have the fervor or numbers of those of Maduro’s predecessor. Opposition leaders also accuse the government of infiltrating marches with violent protesters as a way of discrediting them.

(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Girish Gupta, Christian Plumb and Lisa Shumaker)

Venezuela opposition plans nationwide protests to strain security forces

Demonstrators rally against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro carrying a sign that reads "No more dictatorship" in Caracas, Venezuela, April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Alexandra Ulmer

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s opposition was planning protests in each of the country’s 335 municipalities on Thursday, in a bid to strain the capabilities of security forces as unrest mounted in the volatile nation.

The oil-rich but crisis-shaken South American country has been convulsed by escalating protests over the last two weeks amid a punishing economic recession and accusations that leftist President Nicolas Maduro has morphed into a dictator.

In a worrying sign for Maduro, people in usually pro-government slums and low-income areas have blocked streets and lit fires during scattered protests this week. A crowd also broke through a security cordon at his rally on Tuesday, heckling at him and throwing stones while bodyguards scrambled.

Four people were killed during protests over the last week, authorities say. Opposition lawmaker Alfonso Marquina said on Thursday a fifth protester had died.

With momentum on their side, the main opposition coalition was urging Venezuelans to take to the streets across the country on Thursday in an effort to leave security forces too thinly spread to break up rallies.

They accuse police and the National Guard of indiscriminate use of tear gas, including gassing clinics and dropping canisters from a helicopter, and of arbitrarily detaining people for simply being within the vicinity of protests.

“This is a struggle of resistance, whose fundamental objective is to wear them out, and see who breaks first,” said opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara in a video posted on Twitter.

“Will it be our desire to fight or theirs to repress? Will it be our desire to have a better Venezuela or theirs to obey the dictatorship?”

The opposition says Maduro made it clear to the world he was a dictator when the Supreme Court in late March assumed the functions of the opposition-led congress.

Amid global outcry, the court quickly rolled back the most controversial part of its decision, but the move breathed new life into the fractured opposition movement and comforted demonstrators that they had international support.

Last week’s move to ban opposition leader Henrique Capriles from holding office for 15 years also fueled demonstrators’ outrage. Capriles is seen as the opposition’s best presidential hope.


Alongside planned opposition marches that have dissolved into clashes, there have also been what witnesses and local media describe as impromptu nighttime protests, where neighbors block streets with trash or burning debris.

Looting has been reported too, especially in the working class community of Guarenas outside Caracas.

While opposition leaders have called for protests to remain peaceful, Maduro’s government has claimed that a business-backed opposition is actually pushing for violence to justify “foreign intervention.”

Maduro has drawn parallels with a brief coup against his predecessor – the late Hugo Chavez – in 2002, and warned that an opposition government would slash social benefits like health care for the poor and subsidized food.

The opposition has responded that any social advances made under Chavez have been wiped out by a devastating economic crisis that has brought widespread shortages of food and medicine.

Some in the opposition accuse “colectivos,” militant grassroots groups whom critics say are thugs paid by the government, of looting and violence to taint the opposition.

Many Venezuelans still worry protracted protests will not bring about political or economic change, but will just increase violence in the already volatile nation.

Major anti-government protests in 2014 eventually fizzled out, though the opposition at the time had nebulous demands, poor neighborhoods largely abstained, and the economy was in better shape.

Venezuelans are gearing up for next Wednesday, when opposition leaders have called for the “mother of all marches.”

(Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Bernadette Baum)