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Pro-Maduro, opposition marches face off in Venezuela

By Andrew V. Pestano
Pro-Maduro, opposition marches face off in Venezuela
The Venezuelan opposition is working to remove President Nicolas Maduro through a recall referendum which has been stalled by Venezuela's electoral council. On Wednesday, both supporters of the opposition and loyalists of Maduro took to the streets in defense of their respective stances. Photo courtesy of Voluntad Popular

CARACAS, Venezuela, May 11 (UPI) -- The Venezuelan opposition and loyalists of Nicolas Maduro held dueling marches in Caracas on Wednesday in part over a planned recall referendum seeking to oust the president.

The Democratic Unity Roundtable opposition coalition on Monday called for supporters nationwide to march toward the regional headquarters of Venezuela's National Electoral Council, or CNE, to demand the electoral body comply with the opposition's efforts to initiate a recall referendum against Maduro.

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The opposition coalition, commonly known as MUD, in late April complied with the electoral council's requirement to gather signatures to proceed with the recall effort. The MUD collected more than 1 million signatures out of the nearly 200,000 that were needed.

After completing the first phase of the petition process, the opposition is waiting for the CNE to provide the necessary documents to move ahead with the final phase -- which could pose a more daunting task for the opposition, as it would need to collect signatures from 20 percent, or about 4 million, of the South American country's voting-eligible population within three days.

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The marches toward CNE headquarters have been affected by alleged obstruction. In Caracas, at least four major subway stations were shut down. The Metro of Caracas said it acted out of safety concerns, while the opposition accuses the transportation authority of attempting to inhibit the march.

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Elsewhere, including in the states of Carabobo and Zulia, Venezuelan security forces are accused of preventing opposition supporters from marching by blocking their path. Tear gas has been used in Caracas against opposition demonstrators.

Tensions are high as security officials and marchers meet head on, illustrated in one incident in the Bolivar state recorded on video.

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The pro-government march is being held in support of Maduro's administration amid the opposition's effort to see the Venezuelan president removed from office. The march is also being held in support of the Great Housing Mission Venezuela law that the Venezuelan opposition has been working to amend.

The housing law began in 2011 under former President Hugo Chavez seeking to create 3 million homes for the poor within seven years. The opposition passed a bill last month seeking to grant ownership titles to the beneficiaries of the housing law but the move was declared unconstitutional by Venezuela's top court, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice. The opposition has often accused the Supreme Tribunal of Justice of acting as an extension of the socialist regime established under Chavez.

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The opposition is working to hold the recall referendum in which Venezuelans will be asked whether Maduro should be removed from the presidency by the end of the year. Maduro's approval ratings are usually below 20 percent -- at times dipping into single digits -- meaning the likelihood of his removal is high.

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