Venezuela opposition heaps pressure, Maduro scoffs
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Opposition supporters take part in a rally against President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela, October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
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By Brian Ellsworth and Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's Congress on Thursday heard emotional testimony from citizens accusing President Nicolas Maduro of violating their rights, in a political trial meant to pressure the socialist leader into accepting a recall vote.
Taking the podium one by one, speakers accused Maduro of responsibility for executions during police raids, the death of children in ill-equipped hospitals and denial of subsidized food to those supporting a recall vote.
"Nicolas Maduro is responsible for everything happening in our country," said Brigit Duarte, adding that her son had been wrongly shot dead in a raid. "It's not enough that they kill us with hunger, but they also execute our children."
The National Assembly trial of Maduro for violating democracy is largely symbolic, given that both the government and Supreme Court say the legislature is illegitimate.
Maduro, 53, mocked the trial as irrelevant.
"Here I am, working hard despite having abandoned my position!" he quipped during a televised appearance to supervise state housing projects, referring to parliament's plan to accuse him of abandoning his duties by violating the constitution.
The Democratic Unity opposition coalition has intensified protests since authorities last week effectively scuttled its drive for a plebiscite, with a national strike and march to the presidential palace set for coming days.
Opposition rallies on Wednesday, dubbed the "Takeover of Venezuela," drew hundreds of thousands of people and triggered dozens of injuries and arrests as protesters clashed with police in provincial cities.
Congressional leaders also denounced early in the morning that power had been cut off to the legislative palace, forcing them to rely on an emergency backup generator.
The opposition says the Maduro government effectively staged a coup by blocking a recall vote that polls suggest he would lose. Maduro says opposition hotheads are seeking to overthrow the government illegally with U.S. assistance.
He notes the combination of a national strike set for Friday, and a march to the Miraflores presidential palace, scheduled for next week, mirrors the run-up to the 2002 coup that briefly toppled late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.
"(U.S. President Barack) Obama is leaving and wants to destroy Venezuela first," Maduro said.
Global oil prices rose on Thursday, partly in response to the renewed unrest in the OPEC nation, which holds the world's largest crude reserves.
But there was no evidence the demonstrations could affect operations at state oil company PDVSA, which is firmly under the control of the ruling Socialist Party.
The government has ordered inspections of shops on Friday and is threatening to seize any businesses that heed the strike call. "That is our response to sabotage and conspiracy," Maduro said.
The president announced a 20 percent increase in the minimum wage, the fourth such increase this year in what the government says is proof of its social commitment.
Opposition critics say the frequent salary increases have not kept pace with inflation. The new base salary is equivalent to around $20 per month at the black market exchange rate and would only cover a few days' groceries at most shops.
(Additional reporting by Diego Ore and Corina Pons; Editing by W Simon and Jonathan Oatis)
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