Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro has lashed out against the United States government after it imposed sanctions on 13 of his regime's top officials, as the South American country's violent anti-government protests have led to more deaths. The two deaths were in addition to the previously announced death of a 30-year-old man, also in Merida state.
"No more dictatorship!" read signs on road barricades in eastern Caracas.
Their goal: For Maduro to abandon his plans for a new constitution, opposition leaders said at a news conference. "We are against the constituent assembly because it is illegal and fraudulent and the only thing it will bring is more problems to our country, and worse conditions to all the workers". The crisis will worsen.
"No one wants to keep living under Maduro's regime", tweeted Richard Blanco, a National Assembly member representing Caracas.
The opposition-led National Assembly, meanwhile, has challenged the government by appointing 33 supreme court judges to rival ones loyal to Maduro. His death bears to 105 the total number of deaths since the beginning of the manifestation of anti-Maduro at the beginning of April.
The Treasury Department has said that it's introducing sanctions against 13 present and former senior officials from Maduro's government, which means their assets will be frozen and that USA citizens, for example, will be banned from doing business with them.
A defiant Maduro hit back late on Wednesday, holding a campaign style rally where he presented some of those hit by USA sanctions with replicas of a sword belonging to Latin American independence hero Simon Bolivar.
Maduro said his government does not "recognize any sanctions", adding that the officials singled out by Washington were "brave Venezuelans" who would instead be recognized for their service to the country. "The government of the world?"
But with crippling shortages of basic goods and soaring inflation, protest organizers claimed 92% of businesses and workers support the walkout.
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And under no circumstance should the United States intervene directly against Maduro's government.
"The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles", President Trump declared last week.
The European Union's foreign policy chief is calling on Venezuelan authorities to de-escalate tensions ahead of Sunday's election of a constituent assembly tasked with overhauling the embattled nation's charter.
For months, violence has spiraled out of control as the struggle for food and medicine grows.
A planned protest march Friday in the capital, Caracas, will follow the 48-hour walkout.
Thousands of Venezuelans loaded with heavy bags have crossed the border into Colombia this week, fleeing the unrest.
Lopez called Maduro and his supporters a "very clear threat", saying their goal is to undermine democracy and achieve the "absolute submission of the Venezuelan people".
Slamming the U.S. for its attempt to disrupt Venezuela's economy with an "indirect blockade" targeting the country's financial system, Maduro said that Venezuela is ready for "any scenario".
Thirteen countries in the 35-member Organization of American States (OAS), a regional political bloc - including the US, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina - urged Maduro to suspend Sunday's election because it amounted to a "dismantling of democratic institutionality". The opposition is boycotting what it says will be a rigged vote organized by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
The latest commercial carrier to pull out of the crisis-hit socialist country said in a statement it was obliged to cancel the flights because of "operational and security limitations registered during the last few hours".