Venezuela president Maduro ready to escalate state of emergency

A protester wears a respirator mask during a demonstration in support of a referendum on the rule of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 18, 2016.
A protester wears a respirator mask during a demonstration in support of a referendum on the rule of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 18, 2016.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

CARACAS (AFP) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Wednesday (May 18) he was prepared to escalate a state of emergency imposed this week after opposition-led protests in the capital and other cities.

Maduro told supporters he would give the order - which implies suspending laws and rights to maintain public order - if "violent" anti-government acts occurred.

In that event, "I will not hesitate if necessary to make such a decree to fight for the peace and security of this country," he said.

The declaration came after an anti-Maduro demonstration of around 1,000 people in the center of Caracas that was prevented from marching on to an electoral headquarters by riot police firing tear gas.

The opposition, which controls parliament and which organised that and other rallies Wednesday, is seeking a recall referendum to oust Maduro.

But the Venezuelan leader, the handpicked successor to late president Hugo Chavez, has dug in.

Faced with a crippling recession triggered by low prices for the oil Venezuela depends on, and hyperinflation and a severe energy shortage, Maduro ordered a state of emergency starting this week.

So far its effects have been limited to diverting some scarce food for handout to poor citizens, and greater police and military vigilance.

But the "estado de conmocion interior" Maduro is now threatening could take matters further - allowing the government, for instance, to impose greater military control over the population.