Venezuela strike tests President Nicolas Maduro as pressure builds

A 24-hour nationwide strike in Venezuela on Thursday is set to increase pressure on beleaguered President Nicolas Maduro, whose policies have put him on a collision course with the United States

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro

Foes of Venezuela's unpopular President Nicolas Maduro are calling for a national shutdown on Thursday to demand a presidential election and the abandonment of a new congress they fear would cement dictatorship.

The opposition called the stoppage, calling for Venezuelans to close businesses, halt transport and barricade streets, after holding an unofficial vote last weekend in which a third of Venezuela's voters cast ballots rejecting Maduro and his policies.

One of the President's most controversial policies is his plan to hold an election 30 July to choose a 545-member citizens' body, called a Constituent Assembly, to rewrite the constitution.

US President Donald Trump has threatened "swift economic actions" against Venezuela if that election happens.

The European Union, the United Nations, the Organisation of American States and the Catholic Church have all condemned Maduro's plan, fearing the move - seen by the opposition and Trump as a bid for dictatorship - will irretrievably worsen the political crisis in Venezuela, and risk adding to a death toll that currently stands at 97 since anti-Maduro street protests turned violent in April.

Venezuela's opposition is also demanding freedom for more than 400 jailed activists, autonomy for the legislature, and foreign humanitarian aid.

Bosses at state-run companies - including oil company PDVSA which brings in 95 percent of Venezuela's export revenue - ordered nearly 3 million public employees to ignore the strike. No oil disruptions were expected.

With Venezuela already brimming with shuttered stores and factories amid a blistering economic crisis, even a successful strike would have limited financial impact.

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