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Venezuelan opposition names new candidate in show of unity

Venezuela’s embattled opposition said Friday it is naming a new candidate to fight President Nicolas Maduro this summer, giving the country new hope on its path to democracy.

The country’s highest court in January barred the previous candidate, former lawmaker María Corina Machado, from running, prompting many Venezuelans to question how free and fair the elections would be. The decision raised questions about whether Ms. Machado’s Come Venezuela party would try to insist on her candidacy or coalesce around another candidate.

On Friday. Leaders of several opposition parties announced that Corina Yoris, a philosophy professor, would instead run in the July 28 election, a move that analysts saw as a surprising sign of unity.

“This is huge,” said Laura Dib, who directs the Venezuela program at the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights organization. “It is truly amazing to see the opposition focusing on a single strategy and showing that they are not backing down.”

In October, Mr. Maduro signed an agreement with the country’s opposition and agreed to work toward a free and fair presidential election. In the agreement, Mr. Maduro said he would hold elections before the end of this year, and in return the United States lifted some economic sanctions as a sign of goodwill.

But days later, in a primary conducted by a commission without government involvement, Ms. Machado won more than 90 percent of the vote to elect an opposition candidate. The decisive results underscored her popularity and raised the prospect that she could beat Mr. Maduro in a general election.

Three months later, the country’s highest court, staffed by government loyalists, declared Ms. Machado ineligible to prosecute over financial irregularities that the judges said occurred during her time as a country lawmaker. The government also arrested several members of its campaign. Men on motorcycles have attacked supporters of their events.

Ms. Machado made the announcement on Friday in a press conference alongside Ms. Yoris, just days before the March 25 filing deadline.

“We have found an honorable person of my utmost trust who will carry out this procedure,” Ms. Machado said. “This was a decision that emerged from the unified forces discussion and that gives us all confidence.”

Ms. Yoris was a member of the commission that helped organize the October primary, prompting speculation that the government might not allow her to register as a candidate. The government has questioned the legitimacy of the opposition primaries and taken legal action against its organizers.

The fact that the leader of another rival opposition party, Omar Barboza, opened the conference was further evidence of unity, Ms. Dib said.

“We are on the path to a transition path in Venezuela,” Ms. Yoris said. “We are all necessary in this moment.”

Julie Turkewitz Contribution to reporting from Santander, Colombia.

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