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Venezuelan opposition leader denounces official 'persecution'

Opposition leader Maria Corina Machado is barred by Venezuelan authorities from holding public office (Gabriela Oraa)
Opposition leader Maria Corina Machado is barred by Venezuelan authorities from holding public office (Gabriela Oraa)

Venezuelan opposition leader Maria Corina Machado, barred from running in presidential elections this year, accused the authorities of intimidation Tuesday as thousands marched in support of the government.

Machado said her party's headquarters were vandalized and two of its members "abducted" in violation of a pact between President Nicolas Maduro's government and the opposition for a free and fair vote.

Machado published photographs on social media of her party's headquarters sporting graffiti with the slogan "Bolivarian Fury" -- the name of a plan launched by Maduro as he denounces alleged "terrorist" attempts against him. It is taken from the country's full name: the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

On Monday, authorities in Caracas said they had arrested 32 civilians and soldiers involved in an alleged US-backed plot to assassinate the president, and implicated Machado in it.

A day later, thousands took to the streets in the South American country in support of Maduro, responding to calls by the ruling party.

Maduro, addressing marchers, vowed that: "I will continue governing this country with the support of the Venezuelan people."

He added: "If the fascists ever hurt me... I leave it to you to do what you have to do to restore justice and peace in Venezuela. Activate the Bolivarian fury!"

Maduro has not said whether he will seek another term in elections, for which no date has been set.

His reelection to a second term in 2018 was not recognized by dozens of countries and was met with a barrage of sanctions.

- 'Aggression, disappearances, persecution' -

Machado, for her part, said recent government actions were threatening an agreement struck in Barbados last year meant to guarantee "a peaceful and participatory electoral campaign and of the guarantees that candidates can move freely around the country."

Machado added: "I want to tell the international community that we must put a stop to this madness because this is what the Bolivarian fury means: aggression, disappearances, persecution."

She claimed that two senior party members had "disappeared," having possibly been detained, and others were being "persecuted."

Machado remains barred from holding public office despite winning overwhelming support in a primary vote last October.

She was disqualified by the authorities for alleged corruption and for backing sanctions against Caracas.

A public event she was meant to address Tuesday was displaced by one of the pro-government marches.

In a report last year, the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concern about the "persecution of dissidents" in Venezuela as well as the "intimidation, persecution, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of journalists, human rights defenders and political activists."

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