Lawmaker hit with pipe amid rising tension as opposition calls for recall referendum against Nicols Maduro and deep economic crisis is fueling protests
Venezuelan opposition lawmakers said they were attacked by pro-government groups as they tried to enter the electoral board headquarters on Thursday to demand a recall referendum against President Nicols Maduro.
The incident came amid rising tension in Venezuela, where a deep economic crisis is fueling protests over chronic food and medicine shortages, as well as organized marches to demand unpopular Maduros departure.
A video tweeted by an opposition lawmaker shows a group of people attempting to enter the electoral board building by crossing a barricade of security forces, who push them back using what appears to be pepper spray in the tumult.
The national assembly majority leader, Julio Borges, said 10 lawmakers had been allowed to enter the premises to demand the agency speed up the verification of signatures for the referendum, but that a national guard general suddenly ordered they be pushed towards militant pro-government groups called colectivos.
The colectivos acted with total impunity, they had pipes, motorbike helmets, rocks, explosive artifacts, and they used them against us, Borges told journalists afterwards, blood dripping from his nose and mouth and spilling down on to his shirt and suit jacket.
The information ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Venezuelas supreme court has blocked protests near the electoral board offices, citing concern about security following violence at recent demonstrations.
Also on Thursday, hundreds of students protesting in Caracas scuffled with authorities, although unrest was contained.
Were not here for any political party; were here for the Venezuelan people. People are hungry, people are angry, said Rafael Torres, 19, an economics student at the front of the march.
Riding that wave of public ire over the punishing crisis, Venezuelas opposition won control of the national assembly in a December election but says a compliant election board is dragging its feet on the referendum at Maduros behest.
Officials of the ruling Socialist party say there is no time this year to organize the referendum.
The timing is important. If Maduro lost a referendum this year, a new presidential election would be held, but if he departed in 2017, his vice-president would take over.
Maduro, 53, says the opposition is seeking a coup with the help of the United States.
Opposition leaders scoff it is the government, the military and grassroot militants who are turning increasingly violent.
In a recent protest, opposition leader Henrique Capriles was pepper-sprayed in the face by a security official in a melee.