Venezuela: General strike staged against Nicolas Maduro
CARACAS - Opposition leaders in Venezuela have staged a general strike to push for a referendum on removing President Nicolas Maduro from power.
Many shops, businesses and schools stayed closed on Friday and public transport was quieter than usual.
But adherence to the strike was patchy and poorer areas largely ignored it.
Mr Maduro, who had warned companies they risked being seized if they joined the strike, said the walkout had failed.
Speaking to crowds of supporters, he said the oil industry had ignored the strike, as had basic industries, banks, schools and transport.
What's behind Venezuela's turmoil?
Mr Maduro also announced measures to offset economic hardship – mostly caused by plummeting oil prices – by promising to implement a 40% rise of the minimum wage. It was the fourth increment this year.
The move has been dismissed by analysts as insignificant when the country faces spiralling inflation.
The centre-right opposition coalition is also angry over a decision to block a referendum on removing Mr Maduro from power in the oil-rich South American country.
The coalition won a majority in the National Assembly last December and staged huge anti-government protests earlier this week.
The mass demonstrations came after a recall referendum process – an attempt to remove Mr Maduro from power – was suspended.
Opposition activists had gathered about 1.8 million signatures petitioning for the referendum, 400,000 of which were validated by electoral authorities.
But the process was halted last week after officials said the signature collection process had been marred by fraud.
Parliament voted on Tuesday to open a trial against Mr Maduro, whom MPs accuse of violating the constitution.
He called it a “political trial” and said anyone who violated the constitution by launching it should be jailed.
Mr Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, is blamed by the opposition for Venezuela’s dire economic situation and widespread food shortages.
In turn, he has accused the opposition of having links to foreign states, the US in particular, and of seeking to overthrow him to “lay their hands on Venezuela’s oil riches”.
Under Venezuela’s constitution, a recall referendum can be held once a president has served half of his term in office and the requisite steps are met.
So far, the opposition has only completed the first step of the process.