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Venezuelans march against president's constitution rewrite

Protesters have marched through the Venezuelan capital towards the supreme court in a bid to stop President Nicolas Maduro's plan to rewrite the country's constitution.

Organisers hope the opposition-led demonstration in Caracas will send a forceful message to Mr Maduro to cancel a July 30 election for delegates to a constitutional assembly which would be tasked with overhauling the nation's charter.

Protests have been steadily ramping up ahead of the vote.

Opposition MP Richard Blanco told a crowd in Caracas: "The moment to defend Venezuela has arrived.

"We will stay in the streets."

More than 7.5 million Venezuelans heeded opposition calls to vote in an unofficial referendum rejecting Mr Maduro's plan last Sunday, leaders said.

On Thursday, a 24-hour strike paralysed much of the country, while on Friday the opposition-controlled congress appointed a slate of judges to replace the current members of the government-stacked supreme court.

The nation's highest court swiftly rejected those appointments and warned that the judges could face charges of illegally usurping authority.

"We are at zero hour," metropolitan Caracas Mayor Helen Fernandez said, referring to the opposition's protest plan.

"We will elevate our protest to wherever necessary."

Mr Maduro has shown no sign of ceding to his opponents' demands, instead promoting the constitutional rewrite as a solution for Venezuela's political stand-off and dire economy.

In recent days he and pro-government leaders have also warned that once the special assembly is elected, those they brand as "fascists" and "terrorists" could face justice.

The Trump administration threatened this week to take "strong and swift economic actions" if Mr Maduro proceeds with the constitution rewrite.

The Venezuelan leader's critics fear he will use it to further consolidate his power. The assembly could remove his most vocal critics from their posts.

Nearly four months of anti-government protests have left at least 97 people dead, and thousands more have been injured or detained.

Demonstrators are demanding new presidential elections in light of the nation's triple-digit inflation, food shortages and soaring crime.

AP

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