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Vexit? Venezuela to ditch regional bloc over crisis

Maduro has long had testy relations with the Washington-based regional group, calling it an instrument of US "imperialism."

Published: 27th April 2017 10:28 PM  |   Last Updated: 27th April 2017 10:28 PM   |  A+A-

President Nicolas Maduro | AP

By AFP

CARACAS:  Venezuela begins the process of formally quitting the Organization of American States on Thursday, after branding it an "interventionist coalition" for pressuring President Nicolas Maduro over a deadly political crisis.

The OAS has led an international chorus of concern over the economic and political chaos in the major oil-exporting country.

Maduro has long had testy relations with the Washington-based regional group, calling it an instrument of US "imperialism."

But the final straw came on Wednesday, when 19 of the 35 OAS member countries voted to call a foreign ministers' meeting on the Venezuelan crisis, which has seen 28 people killed in clashes at anti-government protests.

Maduro's government says it will present a "letter of complaint" to the OAS on Thursday, beginning a two-year process of withdrawing from the group.

"We've taken a giant step toward breaking with imperial interventionism," Maduro wrote on Twitter.

Venezuela, a founding member of the OAS, will become the first country to leave since the group was launched in 1948. Cuba was expelled in 1962.

Its formal letter will be addressed to OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, a fierce Maduro critic who has accused him of installing a dictatorship.

Political analysts questioned what Venezuela would actually gain by the move.

"Withdrawing from the OAS would isolate Venezuela much more and raise doubts about whether it remains a democracy," said Diego Moya-Ocampos of London-based consultancy IHS Markit Country Risk.

"This is without a doubt a desperate measure that indicates the government is trying to get out (of the OAS) before sanctions are applied," he told AFP.

Almagro had urged OAS members to sanction Venezuela for violating the group's democratic norms.

'Rescue democracy'

Venezuela has suffered an economic collapse fueled by a plunge in international prices for its crucial oil exports.

Maduro says the shortages and the protests are part of a US-backed plot to topple his leftist government.

The center-right opposition planned further street protests for Thursday.

Venezuela's National Assembly, which has been locked in a power struggle with Maduro since the opposition won a legislative majority in 2015, convened for a session on how to "rescue democracy."

The opposition then planned to march to where one of the latest protest casualties died in eastern Caracas.

That fatality occurred Wednesday, as security forces fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to stop protesters advancing into central Caracas. Protesters threw stones and petrol bombs.

Children were evacuated from a school to escape tear gas, with teachers holding handkerchiefs over the pupils' faces.

Interior Minister Nestor Reverol tweeted that two soldiers were wounded in Caracas by armed men on motorbikes who he said were "contracted by the terrorist rightwing."

Maduro supporters also staged a counter-rally.

Injuries, arrests

The opposition blames Maduro for severe shortages of food, medicine and other essentials in the oil-rich country.

It wants general elections to rescue the country from the crisis and is holding regular demonstrations to press that demand.

A recent survey by pollster Venebarometro found that seven in 10 Venezuelans opposed Maduro.

The opposition and government accuse each other of stirring up violence in the protests.

In just under a month of unrest, more than 400 people have been injured, and nearly 1,300 arrested, according to the attorney general.

Rights group Amnesty International urged the government Wednesday to stop the "persecution" and "arbitrary detention" of protesters.



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