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Venezuela Opposition Holds Mass Protests Against Unpopular Leader


Opposition supporters march in Caracas against President Nicolas Maduro, Oct. 26, 2016. (A. Algarra/VOA)

Venezuela's political standoff deepened as thousands of protesters took to the streets in several cities.

Some schools and shops were closed Wenesday in Caracas as demonstrators marched toward key points around the city to back a recall campaign against President Nicolas Maduro.

Electoral authorities blocked the recall last week, and the faceoff escalated Tuesday when the opposition-led legislature voted to hold a political trial of the president, accusing him of violating constitutional order. Such a trial would have little legal effect because Venezuela's constitution does not give congress power to oust the president.

The protests are the first such mass gatherings since September 1, when hundreds of thousands of dissatisfied Venezuelans marched through Caracas in opposition to Maduro.

Both sides have accused each other of attempting to launch a coup as the country grapples with massive food shortages and soaring inflation.

In Photos: Venezuela protest

Polls show around 75 percent of Venezuelans want to see Maduro removed from power and blame him for the collapse in the country’s standard of living, though he has called the economic collapse a capitalist conspiracy.

Speaking at a rally Tuesday to thousands of his supporters, Maduro said opposition lawmakers were acting like members of a “circus” with their attempts to remove him.

“The National Assembly has been transformed into a bastion of evil and bitterness. It is useless to the interests of our country and our people,” he said.

Maduro controls the Supreme Court, and it has already declared the National Assembly to be illegitimate.

Meeting with pope

Despite the growing tensions, Pope Francis met privately Maduro at the Vatican on Monday and urged him to spark a meaningful dialogue with opposition leaders. The Vatican said Pope Francis urged Maduro to promote a social cohesion to help Venezuela recover from its recent economic crisis.

Speaking in Caracas, Papal envoy Emil Paul Tscherrig said the two sides hoped to begin talks on October 30 on the Venezuelan island of Margarita.

A spokesman for the opposition MUD coalition later denied the two sides agreed to the terms of the Margarita meeting, though he was encouraged by the involvement of the Vatican in the talks.