Venezuela government says foes seek to slam it at Oscars

Daniel Wallis

By Daniel Wallis CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's government said "right-wing extremists" were lobbying in Hollywood for movie stars to denounce President Nicolas Maduro's socialist administration from the stage at Sunday's Academy Awards. Venezuela has been rocked by its worst unrest in a decade, with at least 17 people killed in violence around opposition demonstrations and clashes between hooded protesters, security forces, and pro-government militants. Maduro's critics are demanding he quit and accuse him of repression, while the president says "fascists" working with U.S. financiers want to engineer a coup like the one in 2002 that briefly toppled his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. "Right-wing extremists are lobbying in Hollywood, looking for pronouncements against Venezuela at the Oscars!" Information Minister Delcy Rodriguez said on her Twitter account @DrodriguezMinci on Saturday. "This worldwide operation to discredit our homeland is backed by a powerful media platform serving imperial interests." The turmoil has already drawn comment from entertainers, with singers Madonna and Cher criticizing Maduro on social media, and Venezuela's president - a former bus driver - verbally sparring with Panamanian salsa star Ruben Blades. During Chavez's 14-year rule he won high-profile support from celebrities including Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn, filmmaker Oliver Stone and Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona. Stone, whose documentary "South of the Border" profiled Chavez and other Latin American leftist leaders, often hailed the self-styled revolutionary's efforts to alleviate poverty. "To those who tweet me vile and ugly comments about Venezuela," the U.S. filmmaker said on Twitter this week, "I've never experienced such verbal violence on social media." The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hosts the 86th annual Academy Awards, the film industry's highest honors, on Sunday at a ceremony in Hollywood. (Editing by Diane Craft)