CARACAS — As tensions rise in Venezuela over increased economic hardships, a group of Venezuelan opposition legislators said on Thursday government supporters attacked them as they tried to push for a recall referendum against unpopular socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
National Assembly majority leader Julio Borges said 10 legislators had been allowed to enter the electoral board headquarters to demand the agency speed up verification of signatures for the referendum, but that a National Guard general then ordered they be pushed towards militant pro-government groups called “colectivos”.
The Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Supreme Court has blocked protests near the board, citing security concerns following violent demonstrations.
The falling oil price has cause a severe economic crisis, causing protests over chronic food shortages and marches to demand Maduro’s departure.
“The colectivos acted with total impunity — they had pipes, motorbike helmets, rocks, explosive artifacts, and they used them against us,” the bloodied Borges said outside the building.
Hundreds of students protested in Caracas on Thursday, with some throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at security forces.
“We’re not here for any political party; we’re here for the Venezuelan people. People are hungry, people are angry,” said Rafael Torres, an economics student.
Venezuela’s opposition, riding the wave of public ire over the crisis, won control of the National Assembly in a December election but says the election board is under the sway of the government and is dragging its feet on the referendum.
Government officials have said there is no time this year to organise the vote. If Maduro lost a referendum in 2016, a new presidential election would be held, but if he departed in 2017, his vice-president would take over.
Maduro says the opposition is seeking a “coup with help from the US”, but opposition leaders dismiss the allegations as political guff.
Meanwhile, the government, the military and grassroots militants are turning increasingly violent.
In a recent protest, a security official pepper-sprayed opposition leader Henrique Capriles in the face as thousands marched through the country’s main centre.