Venezuela crisis: Bus drivers bring chaos to Caracas

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(BBC) Bus drivers in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, paralysed the city for eight hours on Wednesday by blocking the streets with their vehicles to protest against the country’s economic crisis.

Hundreds of drivers demanded more pay and protection from violent crime. Many said they needed more money to maintain their buses and complained of a scarcity of spare parts.

Drivers block a main avenue in Caracas during a protest due to the shortage of spare parts for their vehicles on 21 September

Streets in Caracas were blocked by striking drivers(AP photo)

Meanwhile, the electoral council all but ruled out a recall referendum this year against President Nicolas Maduro.

The decision is a setback for the opposition, which has been pressing for a vote to oust him this year.

Timing is key

The timing of the recall referendum is crucial as it will determine what happens next.

If it should go against the president before 10 January, new elections will be held, which the opposition hopes to win.

But if it is held after that date and Mr Maduro is recalled, his loyal vice-president will serve out the end of his term until 2019.

Venezuelan opposition leaders Henrique Capriles (L), Jesus Torrealba, secretary of Venezuela's coalition of opposition parties (MUD) and Henry Ramos Allup (2nd R), President of the National Assembly and deputy of the Venezuelan coalition of opposition parties (MUD), take part in a rally to demand a referendum to remove Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, September 1, 2016

Opposition leaders want a recall referendum to be held this year (Reuters photo)

The opposition has accused the National Electoral Council (CNE), which it says is stacked with supporters of Mr Maduro, of doing everything it can to delay the referendum.

Late on Wednesday, the CNE announced that the referendum “could take place halfway through the first quarter of 2017”, meaning that even if Mr Maduro were to lose, his socialist party would stay in power.

It also stipulated that the opposition would have to collect the signatures of 20% of voters in each and every state of Venezuela – rather than just meeting that threshold nationwide – in order for the referendum to go ahead.

A spokesman for the bus drivers said they would continue their protest on Thursday if the government did not respond to their complaints.

Analysts say their protest is a particular embarrassment for President Maduro, not just because it paralysed parts of the capital for eight hours, but also because Mr Maduro was himself a bus driver once.

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