Caracas (AFP) - Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro insisted Sunday he was "eager" for delayed regional elections to go ahead, despite being criticized for resisting a national vote on removing him from power.
The socialist leader spoke after tension in the poverty-stricken, oil-producing nation mounted this week when mass protests by his opponents sparked deadly clashes with police.
Regional governorship polls were postponed indefinitely in December and municipal ones are due later this year amid a chaotic political struggle.
"I am eager for elections to be convened for governors and mayors" to teach the opposition a lesson, Maduro said Sunday on his weekly television program.
He said he wanted elections "so as to hand a defeat to those people very soon, so that they will stop the rioting and violence; to respond to them with votes."
The next presidential election is scheduled for December 2018.
The center-right opposition has demanded a referendum on removing Maduro from power, but he has resisted and negotiations have broken down.
The opposition blames Maduro for an economic crisis aggravated by falling oil prices, which has caused acute shortages of food and medicine.
Maduro says the crisis is the result of what he calls a US-backed capitalist conspiracy.
International criticism of his government mounted in recent weeks after the Supreme Court moved to curb the powers of the opposition-majority legislature.
It intensified further after state authorities on Friday said they were disqualifying senior opposition figure Henrique Capriles from holding public office.
"We continue to defend the Constitution!" Capriles tweeted Sunday. "No to the self-coup!"
Maduro's Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez in comments to reporters on Sunday called for other Latin American powers who have criticized him to "get their noses out of Venezuela."
Maduro also called Sunday for a probe into an opposition leader, David Smolansky, who compared the supposed use of a banned gas to disperse demonstrations to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
"Attention International Community," Smolansky, the mayor of a district in Caracas, tweeted. "@NicolasMaduro begins to use chemical weapons like is happening in #Syria."
Maduro said on his Sunday program that the message was "one of the most dangerous things that has been done against peace and stability, keeping in mind that it is coming from a mind as twisted as the one of this mayor."