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21 April 2017, 07:28 | Erica Roy
General Motors says Venezuela illegally seizes auto plant
(AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos). A woman is aided by fellow demonstrators after falling, overcome by tear gas, during anti-government protests in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, April 20, 2017. Government supporters are holding their own counter demonstration.
General Motors has stopped doing business in Venezuela after authorities took control of a factory in what GM called an illegal judicial seizure of its assets. Venezuela is now fighting claims of illegal asset seizures at a World Bank-sponsored arbitration panel from more than 25 companies, making it one of the most-frequently targeted nations in the world.
GM's Venezuelan subsidiary, General Motors Venezolana, has operated in the country for almost 70 years and employs almost 2,700 workers there. GM said it would make "separation payments" to its workers.
The Venezuelan government has already seized many assets of foreign corporations.
"Yesterday, GMV's (General Motors Venezolana) plant was suddenly taken by the public authorities, preventing normal operations".
But the move against GM, the United States' biggest automaker and one of its most recognizable brands, was a much more powerful statement, and could lead to a further erosion of relations between the two countries.
Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets again Thursday to demand elections and denounce what they consider an increasingly dictatorial government.
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to break up thousands of marchers as they reached a vital freeway in Caracas, then edged back slightly as masked protesters pelted them with stones and Molotov cocktails.
Government officials dismiss the protests, characterized by street barricades and clashes with security forces, as violent and lawless efforts to overthrow Maduro's leftist government with the backing of ideological adversaries in Washington. The other two people killed amid Wednesday's demonstrations included a teenager who was heading to a soccer match with friends. "It is scandalous that Venezuela, facing such a crisis, would make those donations to the inauguration of a USA president, who at least in theory, is ideologically confronted with the revolution", Jose Manuel Puente, a professor of public policy at IESA university in Caracas, tells the BBC.
The crisis has escalated since 30 March, when Venezuela's Supreme Court moved to seize the powers of the legislature, the only lever of state authority not controlled by Maduro and his allies. Despite Wednesday's deadly violence, his opponents upped the ante by calling for fresh protests on Thursday.
Auto manufacturing has virtually come to a halt in Venezuela amid a broader economic collapse under Maduro.
Venezuela has been rocked in recent days by violent protests of government policies as well as food shortages and triple-digit inflation.
Opponents are pushing for Maduro's removal through early elections and the release of dozens of political prisoners.
The opposition has called for the military - a pillar of Maduro's power - to abandon him.
But the government has not backed down.
"I have asked for an investigation because [Movistar] joined the coup march against the country, and that is not its job", Maduro said. "We leave our homes with a lot of strength and a lot of faith because protesting is a constitutional and universal right". On Wednesday alone, 565 protesters were arrested nationwide, according to Penal Forum, a local group that provides legal assistance to detainees.
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