Venezuela opposition says blocked from meeting near summit

CARACAS (Reuters) - The leader of Venezuela’s opposition-led parliament accused President Nicolas Maduro’s government on Saturday of blocking legislators from Margarita island for a session alongside this week’s Non-Aligned Movement summit.

Henry Ramos Allup (C), President of the National Assembly and deputy of the Venezuelan coalition of opposition parties (MUD), speaks to supporters in Caracas, Venezuela September 9, 2016. REUTERS/Henry Romero

“The government prohibited sea and air carriers from transporting us,” National Assembly president Henry Ramos said via Twitter, amid a controversial build-up to the Sept. 13-18 meeting of the 120-nation bloc of mainly developing nations.

With Venezuela mired in economic crisis and political protests, the Maduro government hopes to use the event to bolster its international legitimacy, while the opposition wants to embarrass him and advance their campaign to end his rule.

The National Assembly had announced it would hold a session from Sept. 15 in Margarita, off Venezuela’s northern Caribbean coast, to make contacts with visiting summit delegations.

The Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Ramos’ accusation.

Venezuela’s opposition says the government is engaged in a wave of repression, including arrests of activists, while Maduro says his security forces are thwarting U.S.-backed coup plots.

The government has not yet said who is coming to the Non-Aligned meeting. Venezuelan media, however, have reported there will be few heads of state beyond Venezuela’s main political allies around the region such as Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Ramos, a pugnacious 72-year-old lawyer and veteran of Venezuela’s turbulent politics, delights hardliners with his colorful anti-socialist rhetoric and now rivals other opposition leaders Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo Lopez in popularity.

But he often offends “Chavistas”, who still revere Maduro’s predecessor and mentor Hugo Chavez, most recently by lamenting that a 2002 coup against the then president failed.

Capriles, who is leading the campaign for a recall referendum this year to end Maduro’s rule, said protests would be held in Margarita if the election board did not give a date for the next phase in the process: the collection of 20 percent of voters’ signatures to request the plebiscite.

“To the Non-Aligned countries: we Venezuelans have the right to a constitutional solution,” he said, also via Twitter.

The Non-Aligned movement was established during the Cold War by developing countries wanting to avoid aligning with the United States or Soviet Union. But it has struggled for relevance since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Grant McCool