CARACAS – National Guard troops riding motorcycles fired tear gas on Saturday to break up an opposition march to the Supreme Court of Justice in an offensive against President Nicolas Maduro and his planned changes to the constitution.
As months of frequently deadly anti-government demonstrations continued, the rally was also a show of support for a so-called shadow Supreme Court comprising 33 magistrates whose names were put forward by the opposition to replace Venezuela’s official high court, which is closely allied with Maduro.
Opposition leaders held a mock swearing-in ceremony for the shadow court’s new “judges” on Friday, following a nationwide strike the previous day, which paralyzed parts of the capital and other Venezuelan cities.
The shadow court has strong support from the demonstrators, organizers said Saturday.
“Everyone has given their backing to the new Supreme Court,” tweeted Freddy Guevara, a leader of the Opposition-led congress.
Saturday’s demonstrations, like many others since the end of March, were organised by the Democratic Unity Roundtable, a coalition of political opposition groups.
More than 100 people have died so far in protests across the country.
Meanwhile, the swearing-in of a shadow judiciary was condemned by the government as “incitement to subversion” and an act of “treason,” and officials threatened to throw the dissidents into prison.
Many of the court’s official justices were hastily appointed shortly before Maduro’s ruling party lost its majority in congress.
The socialist country is in the throes of a political and economic crisis that has led to acute shortages of food, basic household goods and medicine, as well as triple-digit inflation, widely believed to be the world’s highest.
The stakes have risen even further, after the United States threatened economic sanctions if Maduro proceeds with the controversial July 30 election of a body to rewrite the constitution.
In defiance of the “xenophobic” US threat, Maduro has vowed to maintain the July 30 election of 545 members to the “Constitutional Assembly.”