Venezuelan lawmakers seek trial of Maduro after referendum fails

Nicolas Maduro

Nicolas Maduro

Venezuela’s opposition-majority legislature voted on Tuesday to open a political trial against President Nicolas Maduro, who is resisting efforts to remove him from power in a volatile political crisis.

A majority of lawmakers in the National Assembly voted in favor of a motion to launch a “political and criminal trial” against Maduro after he blocked their drive for a referendum on removing him.

They voted to summon Maduro to appear before the assembly on November 1 to answer charges of “criminal and political responsibility and of abandoning his post.”

It is unclear what impact the vote will have. The Supreme Court — which the opposition claims Maduro controls — has ruled the National Assembly’s decisions invalid.

The center right-dominated opposition blames Maduro for a dire economic crisis in the oil-rich nation.

Hit by the fall of global oil prices, Venezuela’s economy has crashed, sparking protests and looting driven by shortages of food, medicine and basic goods.

Maduro calls the economic crisis a capitalist conspiracy.

The opposition called for the political trial after courts and electoral authorities last week annulled their bid to hold a recall referendum against him.

Maduro met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Monday and said afterward that he had the pope’s blessing to launch a “dialogue” with the opposition.

Leaders of the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) dismissed that as a ploy, insisting they had not agreed on terms for talks with the government.

The MUD has called for nationwide street protests from Wednesday to raise pressure on Maduro.

The president landed back in Venezuela on Tuesday after a tour to the Middle East, the Vatican and Portugal, television pictures showed.

He was expected to join his supporters in a rally in Caracas on Tuesday.

Analysts have warned there is a risk of violent unrest in the South American country of 30 million people.

Clashes at anti-government protests in 2014 left 43 people dead.