More unrest in Venezuela as president seeks new constitution

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The United States criticized Tuesday Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's call for a constituent assembly to rewrite the country's constitution, saying it was an attempt to stay in power in the face of opposition protests calling for his ouster. Maduro blames the economy's troubles on sabotage by his opponents and accuses them of conspiring to overthrow him.

Conflicting reports of attacks by government-backed thugs or pro-opposition agitators have sown fear among citizens.

Although he has already assumed sweeping executive powers in that area through an "economic emergency" decree, Maduro has balked at unwinding the complex system of subsidies and price controls that most economists say is the main hindrance to growth in the oil-exporting country.Jaua said on Tuesday that the constituent assembly sought to create "conditions of stability" to hold elections, adding that "conditions of normality" do not exist due to opposition protests.Opposition leaders said, however, that the planned assembly is a perversion of basic democratic principles."What Maduro called for is not a constitutional assembly but rather a prostitutional assembly", tweeted Henry Ramos, a legislator who served as president of Congress past year.

"A constituent assembly without democratic elections will unify the opposition, isolate the government and strengthen street protests".

The opposition is demanding early elections to replace the socialist president. He cited the articles 347, 348 and 349 of the Venezuelan constitution, which, he claimed, gave the president the authority to call such an assembly.

The opposition is vowing to continue massive protests until the government makes concessions, and Maduro has committed himself to a massive restructuring of the country's political structure.

"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 late President Hugo Chavez won election in 1998 as a political outsider promising to upset the old order and funnel some of the country's enormous oil wealth to the poor.

Venezuelans are suffering shortages of food, baby milk, medicine and other basic supplies.

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The International Monetary Fund has forecast that inflation in Venezuela will be above 700 percent this year.

Elsewhere security forces sprayed tear gas and water cannon at anti-government demonstrators, the latest in more than a month of clashes.

Jaua stressed that the Constituent Assembly will strtengthen the exercise of Popular Power abnd also proposes to protect the social instruments that sderve the Venezuelan population, as the social missions.

People of all ages and class backgrounds are participating in the protests.

Capriles, who denied the charges, was seen as Maduro's strongest potential opponent in presidential elections due to be held next year.

Monday's announcement "only sharpens the crisis", said analyst Luis Vicente Leon of polling firm Datanalysis.

The opposition slammed the tactic as a "coup d'etat" and urged protesters to "block the streets" from Tuesday.

"You must disobey such lunacy!"