Venezuelan opposition groups protest election, demand new vote

Saturday, March 17, 2018

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CARACAS, Venezuela (AFP)— A coalition of Venezuelan opposition groups organised rallies across the country on Saturday to protest May 20 presidential elections it considers fraudulent and to demand "free and transparent" elections at a future date.

"The assemblies are a show of resistance against a regime that wants to deny us our rights," parliamentarian Delsa Solorzano told AFP. "We have to salvage the right to vote freely."

The protests were organised by the Broad Front for a Free Venezuela, which includes the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), dissidents of the leftist Chavist movement, and sectors of civil society.

Presidential elections are traditionally held in December, but they were moved up this year by the Constituent Assembly, which Washington alleges was set up to bypass democratic controls and entrench President Nicolas Maduro's power.

Maduro, who is deeply unpopular amid the country's grave economic crisis, is seeking re-election to a term that ends in 2025.

He is running against former governor Henri Falcon, a dissident supporter of the late president Hugo Chavez who is defying MUD's boycott of the election, and three other little-known candidates.

MUD and other groups reject the process as lacking transparency.

"Venezuela says no to the fraud of May 20, and yes to true, free elections," the protesting groups wrote on Twitter. They invited citizens to take part in the protests in several major cities.

At one protest meeting in Caracas, political scientist Nicmer Evans — a Chavist critical of Maduro — urged his listeners to organise to "restore constitutional order."

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