CARACAS • Public outrage over sweeping new emergency powers decreed this week by President Nicolas Maduro was expected to spill onto the streets of Venezuela yesterday, with planned nationwide protests marking a new low point in his unpopular rule.
The demonstrations mark the strongest challenge yet to Mr Ma- duro's controversial declaration of a state of emergency. Opposition- led marches in the capital Caracas and other cities were to demand that the authorities accept a recall referendum to determine his fate.
The 53-year-old President on Tuesday dismissed the push against him as "not viable" and said a petition it was based on was riddled with "fraud", despite 1.8 million signatures seeking his ouster.
The 60-day state of emergency was imposed on Monday to tackle what Mr Maduro said were threats to security, as well as food and energy shortages. Many of the measures rely on Venezuela's army and police being deployed to carry them out.
It notably suspends many constitutional protections by opening the way to expropriations and almost any action deemed necessary to maintain public order.
The opposition-controlled Congress late on Tuesday rejected the decree in a vote, saying it undermined democracy. But the Supreme Court may overrule that.
Mr Maduro has accused Washington of having "imperial" designs on Venezuela, and said a US surveillance plane twice violated his coun- try's airspace last week. He ordered military exercises for Saturday.
Venezuela's opposition has urged the public to defy the state of emergency and called on the army to decide whether it sides "with the Constitution or with Maduro".
"If Maduro wants to apply this decree, he will have to bring out the warplanes and the tanks into the street because he will have to apply it through force," opposition leader Henrique Capriles told a news conference on Tuesday.
If the recall referendum does go ahead, it must be held before Jan 10 in order to trigger new elections. Otherwise, a successful recall vote would simply transfer power to Vice-President Aristobulo Isturiz.