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Maduro presses on with Venezuela vote despite protests, condemnation

Saturday, July 29, 2017

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AFP)— Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was pushing forward Saturday with a controversial weekend vote for an assembly to rewrite the constitution, despite growing domestic political opposition, international condemnation and deadly street demonstrations.

Small groups of protesters defied a ban he imposed against anti-government demonstrations, blocking some roads in Caracas with trash.

Other parts of the capital, however, operated normally on the eve of Sunday's divisive election to choose the new assembly.

One protester in the upmarket district of Chacao, who gave his name only as Endderson, told AFP: "I slept here and will stay here all day. I'm here because my mother died of cancer, unable to get medicine, and I was in the street."

Venezuela's opposition has called for protests over the weekend and beyond to press Maduro to drop the election of a 545-seat "Constituent Assembly" with wide-ranging legislative powers.

The opposition, other Latin American nations, the US and the EU see the new body as a tool to crush democracy in the oil-rich country, where the opposition controls the National Assembly.

- Vote broadly rejected -

The opposition has urged a boycott of the "fraudulent" vote, making it likely that only government supporters will cast ballots.

Some 70 percent of Venezuelans oppose plans for the constituent assembly, and 80 percent reject Maduro's leadership, according to the polling firm Datanalisis.

Maduro insists the new assembly is the only way to haul Venezuela out of its economic and political crisis, but has not explained how a new constitution would do so.

"We have a card to play: a card that will win this game. And that card is the National Constituent Assembly," he said Friday.

An opposition lawmaker, Freddy Guevara, said the struggle against Maduro started before the Constituent Assembly was mooted, and will continue regardless of the election.

"This is for elections, the freeing of political prisoners, for change," he said, vowing that, "from Monday, this crisis will deepen."

Already, 113 people have died in four months of protests.

Maduro's decree cracking down on demonstrations warned that those taking part risked up to 10 years in prison.

One activist, a 23-year-old violinist famous for playing at anti-government protests, Wuilly Arteaga, was to face court after being arrested on Thursday, a justice watchdog NGO, Foro Penal, said.

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