The opposition calls for more protests after the president announced a "citizens' assembly" with powers to rewrite the constitution.

Protesters block streets in Caracas to denounce a decision by President Nicolas Maduro to set up a new popular assembly with the ability to rewrite the constitution. (May 2, 2017)
Protesters block streets in Caracas to denounce a decision by President Nicolas Maduro to set up a new popular assembly with the ability to rewrite the constitution. (May 2, 2017)

Opposition lawmakers in Venezuela's National Assembly on Tuesday criticised President Nicolas Maduro's plans for a constituent assembly, dismissing the move as a veiled attempt to change power structures in the divided OPEC nation.

Maduro shocked many of his countrymen on Monday by calling for a people's assembly in a move similar to his predecessor and mentor Hugo Chavez used almost 20 years ago. He said the assembly would rewrite the country's constitution.

Critics called it a veiled attempt to cling to power by avoiding elections.

Hlonela Lupuwana has more.

Protests

Venezuela's opposition blocked streets in Caracas to denounce Maduro's decision.

Opposition barricades snarled traffic in and around Caracas on Tuesday morning, with demonstrators using bags of garbage, branches, bottles, and cardboard boxes to block roads. Security forces used tear gas to disperse some demonstrators.

"We don't believe in Maduro's fake peace, what he's done is add more fuel to the fire," said Jesus Gutierrez, 64, who was with about 100 demonstrators blocking one of the main avenues in the capital. "The people have to react and that's what they've been doing."

Some 29 people have been killed, more than 400 people injured and hundreds more arrested since the anti-Maduro unrest began in early April.

The government has responded with shows of force by security forces and counter-demonstrations by Maduro supporters.

Many details remain unclear about the constituent assembly, although foes say it would be excessively powerful.

"According to the government, it would have all powers," said Jose Ignacio Hernandez, law professor at Venezuela's Catholic University. "It could dissolve the National Assembly, name a new electoral council, dismiss governors, and dismiss mayors."

The opposition planned more marches on Wednesday.

How is Maduro's move different from Chavez's?

There is a key difference: while Chavez enjoyed broad popularity following his 1998 election, Maduro faces slim odds at the ballot box and critics say he is calling the assembly precisely to avoid or delay free elections.

After he took office in 1999, Chavez led a campaign to create an assembly that rewrote the constitution, letting him name allies to crucial posts such as the Supreme Court. He thus consolidated an already strong hand in institutional disputes with adversaries during his 14-year rule.

Maduro, by contrast, has seen his political capital sapped by triple-digit inflation and years of chronic shortages of food and consumer goods.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies