Australia

Australia concerned about Venezuela unrest

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Australian officials have urged Venezuela to hold presidential elections in an effort to end deadly political protests.

Australia has expressed deep concerns about deadly mass protests and deep political unrest in Venezuela.

Canberra has used its official diplomatic channels to urge the Latin American nation to hold presidential elections as soon as possible.

An anti-government protester covers her face with a Venezuelan flag, and uses toothpaste around her eyes to help lessen the effect of tear gas.
An anti-government protester covers her face with a Venezuelan flag, and uses toothpaste around her eyes to help lessen the effect of tear gas.
AAP

"We are very concerned at what is a clearly deteriorating political, economic, security and humanitarian situation in Venezuela," Foreign Minister Marise Payne told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.

"It is having significant effects across the Latin American region."

Venezuala is gripped by mass protests against President Nicolas Maduro, who has overseen years of economic freefall in the natural resources-rich South American nation.

Senator Payne has indicated Australia may follow US President Donald Trump in recognising Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president.

"We will consider those matters," the minister said.

Venezuela's opposition seeks to keep up pressure

Venezuela’s opposition on Thursday will seek to maintain pressure on isolated President Nicolas Maduro after congress chief Juan Guaido swore himself in as the rightful head of state with the support of nations around the region.

Guaido won diplomatic backing from the United States and governments across Latin America on Wednesday after declaring himself interim president before an ebullient crowd of supporters, who thronged the streets of Caracas in hopes of change.

Venezuelan Bolivarian National Guard soldiers detain an anti-government protester, whose face they covered.
Venezuelan Bolivarian National Guard soldiers detain an anti-government protester, whose face they covered.
AAP

The 35-year-old industrial engineer, catapulted almost overnight to national leader, has promised free and fair elections, a transition government to end the country’s hyperinflationary economic debacle, and an amnesty for military officers if they help push Maduro from power.

He now faces the daunting task of pushing forward the transition plan without control over crucial state institutions and an armed forces that has disavowed him.

“While it’s true that Guaido has been recognized internationally, the real power of the state is still in the hands of Nicolas Maduro,” said Ronal Rodriguez, a political science professor who focuses on Venezuela at Rosario University in Bogota.

Guaido promises the distribution of aid 

Foreign backing could allow Guaido to raise funds abroad to obtain food and medicine for a population struggling under economic crisis, Rodriguez said, but he would face challenges in getting goods through ports controlled by Maduro allies.

Guaido on Wednesday promised that humanitarian aid would be distributed with the oversight of the congress, adding that the opposition was planning a march for the first week of February to demand access to foreign assistance.

He did not announce activities for the coming days.

A spokesman did not respond to a message seeking details.

Many opposition sympathizers worry he could be arrested like other political activists, including his mentor Leopoldo Lopez, who remains under house arrest for his involvement in 2014 street protests.

With the country’s economy falling apart and annual inflation approaching 2 million percent, Maduro has relied extensively on the military to maintain power.

Military commanders, including Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, have so far promised to stick with Maduro and disavow Guaido.

“The soldiers of the fatherland do not accept a president imposed under the shadow of dark interests or self-proclaimed at the margin of the law,” Padrino wrote on Twitter.

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