Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela Socialist Party holds first post-Chavez congress

Maduro holds a picture of Chavez
Image caption Mr Maduro holds a picture of Hugo Chavez, who was in office for 14 years

Venezuela's governing United Socialist Party (PSUV) has begun its first congress since President Hugo Chavez died in March last year.

Party leaders have urged delegates to consider proposals that will help consolidate the programme of social reforms initiated by Mr Chavez in 1999.

The conference, which ends on Thursday, goes ahead after months of anti-government protests across the country.

The opposition blames the economic crisis on failed left-wing policies.

The government says the protests are part of a right-wing plot.

"Neo-fascists are trying to take over power in Venezuela, Ukraine, Syria, Libya and Palestine. But they won't succeed," President Nicolas Maduro said earlier this week.

'Revolutionary country'

Mr Maduro was elected by a narrow margin to succeed Mr Chavez in April last year.

Since then, Venezuela has become more politically polarised and the economic crisis has deepened.

The 537 delegates gathered in Caracas until Thursday have been encouraged to be inspired by the left-wing ideas and determination of Mr Chavez.

Image caption A total of 42 people, both supporters and opponents of the government, have died in the protests

The head of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, said the Third Congress of the PSUV will consolidate the party.

It was founded in 2008, amalgamating some 10 left-wing parties that supported Mr Chavez.

"This is a revolutionary country. The right thinks they will return to power in this country. No! They won't come back," said Mr Cabello, who's also the party's first vice-president.

Earlier this week, the trial began in Caracas of one of Venezuela's main opposition leaders, Leopoldo Lopez.

He has been in custody since February, accused of inciting violence at an anti-government protest.

Mr Lopez accused Mr Maduro's government of "jailing Venezuelans for seeking democratic change".

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