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Scattered protests in Venezuela, OAS suspends crisis meeting

By Carlos Rawlins and Lesley Wroughton

CARACAS/WASHINGTON Venezuela’s opposition sought to keep pressure on President Nicolas Maduro with scattered protests on Monday, but there was relief for the socialist government when the Organisation of American States cancelled a crisis meeting.

One group of protesters tried to block a major Caracas highway and another dropped a pile of straw in front of court offices to protest at the judiciary’s controversial takeover last week of the opposition-led congress’ responsibilities.

Though the top tribunal rowed back on that decision, which was condemned globally and led to unrest, the opposition is pushing to remove the judges responsible.

One opposition lawmaker, Juan Requessens of the Justice First party who is often at the forefront of protests, suffered a gash in the head after being hit by a stone during a fracas outside the public ombudsman’s office, witnesses said.

Protesters had taken live chickens there to symbolize cowardice, but were confronted by government supporters.

The OAS meeting was called at the weekend by a group of 20 countries concerned about democratic erosion in Venezuela under Maduro, who replaced socialist firebrand Hugo Chavez in 2013.

No reason was given for the suspension of the meeting.

The cancellation, as Maduro’s leftist ally Bolivia takes the bloc’s presidency, was a “win for Venezuela,” one Latin American diplomat told Reuters.

After a turbulent week, the 54-year-old Venezuelan president was also delighted on Monday to see a win for socialist Lenin Moreno in Ecuador’s presidential election, bucking a regional shift to the right.

Venezuela’s opposition wants to bring forward the next presidential election, slated for the end of 2018, to try to end Maduro’s rule which they say has become a dictatorship.

He alleges a U.S.-led coup plot against his government.

(Additional reporting by Girish Gupta and Andrew Cawthorne in Caracas and Alexandra Ulmer in Quito; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne and Girish Gupta; Editing by Alistair Bell and James Dalgleish)