Venezuela leader urges rally after telling OAS to 'shove it'

Maria Isabel Sanchez

Caracas (AFP) - President Nicolas Maduro has called for a demonstration Wednesday against the Organization of American States over what he labels its meddling in Venezuela's political crisis.

As part of an escalating war of words, Maduro Tuesday told the head of the Washington-based organization to "shove it."

The verbal barrage came after OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro called for an urgent meeting on the Venezuelan crisis, warning democracy was at risk in the country.

Oil-rich Venezuela's economy is in very dire straits and the opposition wants to remove the president through a referendum. There are increasing signs of social unrest, such as looting, with shortages of most basic consumer goods such as soap and toilet paper.

In a 132-page letter to the president of the OAS Permanent Council, Almagro requested a meeting of the organization's 34 member states from June 10 to 20.

"The institutional crisis in Venezuela demands immediate changes in the actions of the executive branch," Almagro wrote, adding that the socialist nation is "at risk of falling immediately into a situation of illegitimacy."

Venezuela's opposition-controlled legislature had requested that Almagro invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter -- which regulates government behavior in members states -- to assess whether the Maduro government violated standards.

"Mr Almagro, you can take your Democratic Charter... put it in a skinny little tube and shove it wherever it fits," Maduro fired back at a rally of thousands of his supporters in Caracas.

"Venezuela must be respected. No one is going to apply any charter to Venezuela. I call for a national rebellion in the face of these international threats."

Maduro also vowed to sue the congressional leadership for "treason" and "usurping" executive duties.

Later Tuesday, appearing on TV, Maduro said: "Seeking to intervene in Venezuela is a crime. I call for mobilization against interventionism."

He said he wanted "a big anti-imperialist and anti-Almagro march" by young Venezuelans who follow Maduro's socialist agenda.

The leftist leader accuses the United States and the OAS of conspiring against his government at the behest of the "fascist Venezuelan right," which he blames for severe shortages of food and medicine gripping the recession-racked country.

He has decreed a state of emergency and recently held military exercises to counter the alleged foreign threat.

- Warning for region -

The OAS leader has repeatedly sparred with Maduro in recent months, calling him a "dictator."

Under the OAS Charter, the Permanent Council may vote to suspend Venezuela's membership with a two-thirds vote, on the grounds of preserving democracy.

Venezuela's economy has plummeted along with global crude prices over the past two years.

The crisis has been aggravated by electricity shortages that have forced rolling blackouts, school closures and a dramatically shortened work week for public sector employees.

Polls indicate that nearly seven in 10 Venezuelans want Maduro to go.

In early May, an opposition coalition turned in as many as 1.85 million signatures demanding a referendum to recall the unpopular president.

The leftist leader's allies say the petitions are rife with fraud.

The opposition welcomed Almagro's move and urged the international community to step up pressure on Maduro's government.

"The international community, including the OAS, can't turn a blind eye to the grave humanitarian crisis we're in, not just (shortages of) medicine and food but also human rights violations and a non-existent democracy," said legislative speaker Henry Ramos Allup.

"They can't turn their heads, because an explosion in Venezuela will affect the entire region."