Opponents of President Nicolas Maduro are calling on demonstrators to flood the streets of Caracas on Saturday as part of a weeklong protest movement that shows little sign of losing steam, after Venezuela’s embattled socialist government stepped up its campaign against the opposition by banning Henrique Capriles, two-time presidential candidate and governor of Miranda state, from holding public office… for 15 years.
Capriles wrote on Twitter Friday…
“I am informing the country and international community that they are notifying me at the moment of a disqualification for 15 years,”
A spokesperson for the Comptroller’s office, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the decision without providing details.
Bloomberg reports that Maduro’s opponents have rallied their supporters on the streets in recent days after the country’s top court tried to quash the nation’s opposition-controlled congress. One protester was shot and killed Thursday in a clash with the National Guard and police after a thousands rallied in the capital earlier that day. The opposition wants the authorities to hold fresh elections and purge institutions of socialist party loyalists.
Speaking at a news conference in his home state of Miranda Friday evening, Capriles said the government’s decision to ban him “gives more reason, more strength to take to the streets of Venezuela,” adding that he would use all legal measures to challenge the ruling.
"The only disqualified one here is Nicolas Maduro," he said, flanked by members of the opposition of alliance.
“The dictatorship wants to choose its own opposition,” National Assembly Vice President Freddy Guevara wrote on twitter. “Are we going to let them? No! Tomorrow we’ll press on!”
Long seen as one of the more moderate voices in the opposition alliance, Capriles has taken a much more strident tone in recent weeks, joining the demonstrations and traveling abroad to met foreign leaders critical of the Maduro government.
Bloomberg further reports that the Venezuela government isn’t just clamping down on Capriles. The head of a small, conservative opposition party took refuge in the Chilean Embassy this week after being called to appear in a military court for alleged treason, while local rights groups say over 80 protesters have been arrested across the country since the wave of demonstrations began last week.
AP notes that past demonstrations were sometimes planned weeks in advance to guarantee high turnout. But now the almost-daily churn of events in what's being called the "ongoing coup" – the government's alleged moves to accumulate more power – has energized and united the normally fractious opposition leading up to Saturday's march.
As is now customary, authorities shut down the city's subway in what's widely seen as an attempt to discourage people from joining the protests, many of which have ended in scores of arrests, tear gas and rubber bullets. In another intimidation tactic, police also posted on social media mugshots of protesters taken undercover at recent demonstrations with a request for information about the whereabouts of the unidentified "generators of violence."
Together with jailed hardliner Leopoldo Lopez, Capriles is the most-popular opposition leader. With both seemingly out of the running, the government may be trying to manipulate the electoral playing field to leave the opposition with less viable options should the government bow to pressure and call presidential elections before they're scheduled in 2018, analysts said.
"However, it is a risky strategy that will probably backfire," Eurasia Group said in a report Friday. "The opposition is clearly fired up and this will further their cause."
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