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More Protests As Venezuelan President Calls For Changes To Constitution

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In a post on Twitter yesterday, President Trump expressed frustration with the Senate filibuster, one of the many breaks installed in the U.S. democratic system. No one person, even the president, can do all he wants. Trump is not the only world leader to be frustrated this way. Turkey's president just pushed through a referendum to give him more power. Venezuela's president has steadily hammered at obstacles for years. And now Nicolas Maduro faces more protests after deciding to overhaul Venezuela's constitution. NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: These days, protests against Maduro and his leftist government happen in Venezuela almost every day. They're fueled by triple-digit inflation and severe shortages of basic goods. Now his opponents have a new reason to take to the streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: Maduro appeared on TV Monday and announced he's creating a new constituent assembly. The opposition sees this as another step by Maduro towards dictatorship by avoiding elections. Alarms are flashing around the region, including in Washington.

MICHAEL FITZPATRICK: What President Maduro's trying to do, yet again, is change the rules of the game.

REEVES: Michael Fitzpatrick is U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere.

FITZPATRICK: Recognizing his grip on power has slipped, he seeks to stack the deck, to rewrite the rules so as to assure himself and his cronies continued access to power, privileges and protection.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MADURO: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: Maduro didn't provide many details in his TV speech. He said this will be a citizen's assembly that'll help create peace and counter what he calls a coup organized by his opponents.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MADURO: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: We don't want civil war, he says. Some things are clear. The assembly won't be elected by popular vote. It will have the power to rewrite the constitution, including election rules. Fitzpatrick, again.

FITZPATRICK: One of the motivations for this was to not have to do the municipal elections, not have to do the overdue regional elections but instead, move forward with a rather handpicked, possibly, selection of people to go to this constituent assembly.

REEVES: Opposition supporters responded yesterday by blocking the streets of the capital, Caracas, with barricades and setting fires. Protests like this have been going on for more than a month and have led to several dozen deaths and many hundreds of injuries and arrests. Many observers believe that Maduro's latest move ensures that Venezuela's crisis will now deepen. Philip Reeves, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.