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story.lead_photo.caption “We must unite now more than ever,” Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido said Monday during a speech at a university in Caracas.

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela's chief justice on Monday asked lawmakers to strip opposition leader Juan Guaido of immunity, taking a step toward prosecuting him as he seeks to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

Supreme Court Justice Maikel Moreno said Guaido should be prosecuted for violating a ban on leaving the country for a tour of Latin American nations that back a change in Venezuela's government. Guaido is also accused by Maduro's government of inciting violence linked to street protests and receiving illicit funds from abroad.

Guaido, who has immunity from prosecution as head of the National Assembly, continued his calls for Maduro to step down and accused the socialist leader of using the constant blackouts blanketing the country as political capital. The opposition leader says years of neglect by the government have left the grid a shambles, not sabotage. He urged Venezuelans to take to the streets until Maduro leaves power.

"We must unite now more than ever," said Guaido at a Caracas university earlier Monday. "We must mount the biggest demonstration so far to reject what's happening."

Since a widespread power failure struck March 7, the nation has experienced near-daily blackouts and a breakdown in critical services such as running water and public transportation. Classes have been intermittently suspended for nearly a week, while workdays tend to end in the early afternoon so millions aren't stranded as a result of cuts to the Caracas metro service.

At the same time, frustrated residents are increasingly unable to find water, make phone calls or access the Internet. Millions of Venezuelans were told by Maduro a day earlier that the nation's electricity is being rationed to combat daily blackouts.

Maduro said late Sunday that he was instituting a 30-day plan that would balance generation and transmission with consumption. He also called on Venezuelans to stay calm but provided no further details.

Office worker Raquel Mayorca said she didn't know if her lights were off because of another power failure -- or whether it was part of the government's plan.

"We are worse off now more than ever," she said, adding that the power was out on one side of the street but working on the other. "We do not know if the light went out due to a blackout, or whether they took it away because of the rationing."

As the lack of electricity became the latest sticking point in an ongoing political standoff, however, many Venezuelans simply found themselves wondering what the newly announced rationing plan would entail.

With few details, it was difficult to assess how effective the plan would be in restoring a consistent supply of power in the long term. Some electricity experts have also said there are no quick fixes to Venezuela's fragile power grid, presenting the prospect that electricity could be shaky and unreliable for the foreseeable future.

On Sunday, a mass of protesters took to the streets only to be threatened by contingents of alleged government supporters known as "colectivos" who appeared on motorbikes and quickly dispersed them. Videos posted on social media also showed armed men opening fire to drive residents inside.

Many had resigned themselves to a bleak reality.

"I haven't had water at home for 15 days," said Maria Rojas, a 57-year-old homemaker looking for a water source to fill her jugs.

"You try to find water in the street that is more or less safe to drink."

Information for this article was contributed by Jorge Rueda of The Associated Press.

Photo by AP/ARIANA CUBILLOS
A Venezuelan woman collects water from a spout in a highway tunnel Monday in Caracas. Widespread power failures have disrupted critical services, adding to the political pressure on President Nicolas Maduro. The nation’s chief justice on Monday asked lawmakers to rescind the immunity of opposition leader Juan Guaido, a step toward prosecuting the Maduro critic.

A Section on 04/02/2019

Print Headline: Venezuelan judge asks to lift opposition leader's immunity

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