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International concern mounts over Venezuela

With the oil-dependent country’s economy imploding under recession and hyperinflation, public sentiment is backing Maduro’s ouster. But the socialist president is digging in. He imposed a state of emergency this week and ordered the two-day war games to show that the military can tackle domestic and foreign threats he says are being fomented with US help.

After deploying its Russian-made strike aircraft across Venezuela’s skies on Friday, the military ran other units through their paces on Saturday, state television showed. Several anti-riot squads were shown. And missiles, including a Russian BUK anti-aircraft missile on a mobile launcher, were presented, but not fired.

The defense minister, General Vladimir Padrino Lopez, said civilian militias were integrated into the defense strategy of the armed forces “under the constitutional principle of shared responsibility between the state and society.” 

The opposition, which has a majority in the National Assembly, this week rejected the state of emergency.

It led protests on Wednesday demanding a recall referendum against Maduro on the basis of a petition that garnered 1.8 million signatures. Seventy percent of Venezuelans want a change of government, polls say.

But the Supreme Court, stacked with judges loyal to Maduro, overruled the legislature and said that the emergency decree was “constitutional.” 

Separately, electoral officials have been dragging their feet in validating the petition.Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, whom Maduro narrowly beat to the presidency in 2013 elections following the death of Hugo Chavez, has given dire warnings about the mounting public frustration.

The risk is that “along the way there is a social explosion and, as we have repeated, a coup d’etat,” Capriles said in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais.“We don’t want a coup d’etat. The solution for Venezuela isn’t a military uprising. That would be worse than what we have today.” 

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