November 16, 2019 / 12:46 AM / 23 days ago

Masked men break into Venezuela opposition party offices on eve of protest

CARACAS (Reuters) - Unidentified masked men on Friday forced their way into the offices of Venezuelan opposition party Popular Will, political leaders said, the night before planned protests across the country meant to boost pressure on President Nicolas Maduro to resign.

Men carrying rifles entered in the offices of the Popular Will party in Caracas in the late afternoon, ordering those present to the floor and telling them to hand over their phones, according to witnesses and a video released by the party.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido, the head of the legislature who has been recognised by more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s legitimate president, called the incident an act of government intimidation to dampen the planned protests.

“We’ve had enough of the dictatorship threatening our people, that’s why tomorrow we’re going to take to the streets in force,” Guaido, a member of Popular Will, told reporters at the entrance to the building where the offices are located. “We’ve had enough intimidation.”

One legislator who was present for the raid said the men belonged to police special forces unit FAES.

A Reuters investigation of 20 killings by FAES, which is accused of summary executions in restive neighbourhoods, found that the official versions that officers acted in self-defence were contradicted by witness accounts.

The information ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

In January, Guaido invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency following Maduro’s 2018 election, which was broadly boycotted and widely criticized by the international community as being stacked in his favour.

Guaido is now hoping to bring new energy the opposition movement as frustration grows over the inability to remove Maduro despite a crippling economic crisis that has forced more than 4 million people to leave the country.

Maduro dismisses Guaido as a puppet of the United States, and says Venezuela’s problems are the result of U.S. sanctions that have hobbled the country’s oil exports and made it a pariah in the global financial system.

Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Deisy Buitrago; Editing by Will Dunham

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