Amid protests, Venezuelan president calls for new constitution

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (R) holding an image depicting former President Hugo Chavez, next to his wife, Cilia Flores, during a demonstration in Caracas. Photo by Mira Flores/EPA/Handout

May 2 (UPI) — His country beset by hyper-inflation and wracked by violent protests, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called Monday for a popular assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution.

“I call a constituent assembly that will be profoundly communal, from the working class, from the people,” Maduro said, invoking Article 347 of the Bolivarian Constitution.

The article allows for “calling a National Constituent Assembly for the purpose of transforming the State, creating a new juridical order and drawing up a new Constitution.”

“I activate the assembly for the people to take power,” Maduro said in downtown Caracas, where government supporters and opponents clashed again in the streets.

Maduro provided no timetable or other details. Opponents, who have called for his resignation, derided the move as a ploy to consolidate his power.

Julio Borges, president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, said it was an attempt to “fight fire with gasoline.”

“This is a joke and a coup against the Venezuelan people,” he added. “But don’t think this is an action of a strong government or president. Nicolas Maduro is not going forward, but toward the cliff.”

On Sunday, in response to protests and economic crisis, Maduro raised the nation’s minimum wage by another 60 percent.

It was the third time this year he raised the minimum wage — 50 percent in January and 20 percent in February — to battle an escalating economic crisis.

None of the increases will come close to keeping up with the nation’s inflation, which is expected to rise by more than 1,600 percent this year.

Frustrated Venezuelans have lashed out in violent protests, resulting in 29 dead, 500 wounded and more than 1,000 detained.

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