OAS chief Almagro offers to resign 'for freedom in Venezuela'

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 24, 2017 2:57 PM

CARACAS (Reuters) - Organization of American States President Luis Almagro offered on Saturday to resign if Venezuela holds free elections and enacts reforms to protect democracy in the troubled South American nation.

"I will resign from the Organization of American States the day that free, fair and transparent national elections are held without impediments," Almagro said in a video message posted on Twitter.

"I offer my position in exchange for freedom in Venezuela," he added.

At its annual general assembly in Mexico this week, the OAS failed to reach consensus on a resolution about Venezuela, where 75 people have died in three months of protests.

Demonstrators are demanding general elections to end 18 years of socialist rule in the once wealthy OPEC nation, racked by rising poverty and a deepening economic and political crisis.

Almagro conditioned his resignation offer on a long list of demands, including the release of political prisoners and a guarantee of Supreme Court independence.

Venezuela's Supreme Court is packed with judges loyal to the government and in April took over the functions of the opposition-controlled Congress, before the decision was revoked under international pressure.

The opposition says Venezuela has hundreds of political prisoners, including leading politician Leopoldo Lopez. The government says they are coup plotters and criminals.

President Nicolas Maduro had said on Thursday that if Almagro, an outspoken critic of his government, resigned he would consider reversing a decision to withdraw Venezuela from the 34-nation OAS bloc.

Maduro offered no immediate response to Almagro's offer on Saturday. But he has called the OAS chief "immoral" in the past and considers the regional group a puppet of Washington intent on toppling his government.

The opposition wants Maduro to bring forward next year's presidential election. Instead, however, the president has called for the election of a constitutional assembly on July 30 to draft a new constitution.

The opposition has said it will boycott the assembly vote, which critics see as a rigged process to help the unpopular government stay in power.

The opposition organized marches to military bases around the country on Saturday to demonstrate against the killing of a 22-year-old protester who was shot dead by a military police sergeant on Thursday, as youths tried to pull down the fence around an air force base in Caracas..

Thousands of Saturday's protesters gathered on a highway outside the air force site in Caracas.

(Reporting by Silene Ramirez; Editing by Tom Brown)