Scattered protests in Venezuela, OAS delays crisis debate

By Carlos Rawlins and Lesley Wroughton
1 / 4

Conrado Perez, deputy of the Venezuelan coalition of opposition parties (MUD), carries a chicken while clashing with riot police during a protest outside the offices of the Venezuela's ombudsman in Caracas

Conrado Perez (C), deputy of the Venezuelan coalition of opposition parties (MUD), carries a chicken while clashing with riot police during a protest outside the offices of the Venezuela's ombudsman in Caracas, Venezuela April 3, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Carlos Rawlins and Lesley Wroughton

CARACAS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Venezuela's opposition sought to keep pressure on President Nicolas Maduro with scattered protests on Monday, but there was relief for the socialist government when the Organization of American States delayed a debate on the crisis.

One group of protesters tried to block a major Caracas highway and another dropped a pile of straw in front of court offices to protest at the judiciary's controversial takeover last week of the opposition-led congress' responsibilities.

Though the top tribunal rowed back on that decision, which was condemned globally and led to unrest, the opposition is pushing to remove the judges responsible.

One opposition lawmaker, Juan Requesens of the Justice First party who is often at the forefront of protests, suffered a gash in the head after being hit by a stone during a fracas outside the public ombudsman's office, witnesses said.

Protesters had taken live chickens there to symbolize cowardice, but were confronted by government supporters.

The OAS debate on Venezuela was called at the weekend by 20 countries concerned about democratic erosion in Venezuela under Maduro, who replaced socialist firebrand Hugo Chavez in 2013.

A spokesman first said it was cancelled, but then the 34-nation block began a session in the afternoon to discuss whether or not the Venezuela debate would go ahead.

The initial suspension, as Maduro's leftist ally Bolivia takes the bloc's presidency, was a "win for Venezuela," one Latin American diplomat told Reuters.

But some members were unhappy. Mexico's Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray blamed Bolivia for the "unilateral" and "arbitrary" delay of the debate over Venezuela.

Opponents wants to bring forward Venezuela's next presidential election, slated for the end of 2018, to try to end Maduro's rule which they say has become a dictatorship.

He alleges a U.S.-led coup plot against his government.

One opposition party, COPEI, said two of its members were arrested on Sunday and Monday, the latest to be held in frequent detentions of anti-Maduro activists in Venezuela.

Rights groups say that more than 100 political leaders and activists are in jail, mostly on trumped-up charges. Officials say all are imprisoned on legitimate criminal accusations.

Military intelligence agents picked up COPEI's Roberto Enriquez and Eduardo Vetancourt and accused them of "rebellion" and "treason", the party said.

"This is a fresh attack on those who think differently to the government," it said in a statement.

Two military officers have also been detained in recent days, a local rights group says.

(Additional reporting by Girish Gupta, Deisy Buitrago and Andrew Cawthorne in Caracas, Alexandra Ulmer in Quito, Michael O'Boyle in Mexico City; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne and Girish Gupta; Editing by Alistair Bell and James Dalgleish)

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes