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US reviewing Venezuela's seizure of GM assets

21 April 2017

The seizure is the latest in a long string of government confiscations of factories and other assets that have been a staple of the so-called 21st century socialist revolution in Venezuela started by the late Hugo Chavez two decades ago.

"It's time for the armed forces to realize that they're protecting corrupt leaders and not the Venezuelan people", said opposition lawmaker Jorge Millan, who represents part of the poor hilltop Caracas neighbourhood of 23 de Enero, once a government stronghold. Government supporters, who also took to the streets on Wednesday at the urging of the president, dismiss the opposition marches as violent efforts to overthrow Maduro with the backing of ideological adversaries in the United States.

Nonetheless, reporters on the ground have captured scenes of incredible resolve from these protesters.

The clashes erupted as police in the beleaguered oil-rich nation tried to break up thousands of marchers as they reached a vital Caracas freeway, edging back slightly as masked protesters pelted them with stones and Molotov cocktails.

In the US - where protests and praise for socialist values have come to the forefront of late - the unrest in Venezuela has not gone unnoticed.

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Morales also said foreign and domestic attacks against President Nicolas Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution are meant to send a threatening message to anti-imperialist governments around the world.

They are calling for community-level protests across the country on Friday, a white-clad "silent" march in Caracas on Saturday to commemorate those killed in the unrest, and a nationwide "sit-in" blocking Venezuela's main roads on Monday.

In recent weeks, many Venezuelans decided that they'd had enough, and took to the streets in protest against the government.

The unrest was sparked by a Supreme Court decision last month to strip Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress of its few remaining powers, a move that was later reversed amid a storm of worldwide criticism.

GM called the expropriation of its factory "an illegal judicial seizure of its assets" and announced it would cease operations in the country, where it employs almost 2,700 workers. Police fired tear gas at demonstrators, but the crowds appeared to be smaller than during Wednesday's marches.

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Opponents are pushing for Mr Maduro's removal through early elections and the release of dozens of political prisoners. The protests were further fuelled when the government barred the opposition's best-known leader, two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, from holding public office.

But while GM says the seizure will hurt its dealers, multiple employees at the plant tell NPR that the takeover was actually orchestrated by GM dealers, with the support of a judge and police officers.

As previous attempts at dialogue between the government and the opposition have failed it is hard to see fresh negotiations starting anytime soon.

But the government hasn't backed down. "We leave our homes with a lot of strength and a lot of faith because protesting is a constitutional and universal right".

Rights group Penal Forum said more than 500 people were arrested in relation to Wednesday's protest and 334 remained in detention.

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Foreign governments also are warning about the increasingly bellicose rhetoric coming from the government.

US reviewing Venezuela's seizure of GM assets