Could political tension in Venezuela ignite a civil war?

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The governments determination to uproot democratic institutions is sure to increase violence but the prospect of a coup, or worse, remains uncertain

The Venezuelan governments determination to uproot the countrys democratic institutions looks almost certain to raise the already serious level of violence in the country. Is it less clear whether that violence will ignite a civil war, trigger a coup, or simply drive Venezuela further down the road towards an impoverished failed state and chaos.

The abrupt removal of the independently minded chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, whose office was surrounded by soldiers on Saturday as a precursor to her replacement by a more compliant official, is the latest in a series of steps taken by president Nicols Maduro to get rid of checks on his governments power.

If the newly formed constituent assembly, boycotted by the opposition and packed with Maduro supporters, delivers on a threat to dissolve parliament, where the opposition Democratic Unity coalition (MUD) has had a majority since 2016, it will end the already threadbare democratic order established under Venezuelas 1999 constitution.

Two prominent opposition leaders were taken from their homes by intelligence agents last week. Others could now face the choice of going into exile or into hiding.

The opposition has kept up daily and largely peaceful protests since April, but that may be hard to sustain in the face of increasingly brutal suppression by the security forces.

More than 120 people have been killed so far, and a militant opposition fringe has taken to responding violently with molotov cocktails and improvised weapons. In recent days a home-made bomb went off in Caracas, injuring several policemen.

Should such events recur, Venezuelas political conflict could morph into a low-intensity civil war, said Phil Gunson, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.

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