Venezue­lans stay away from polls in protest

Penticton Herald - - WORLD -

CARA­CAS, Venezuela — Venezue­lans stayed away from the polls in mas­sive num­bers on Sun­day in a show of protest against a vote to grant Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s rul­ing so­cial­ist party vir­tu­ally un­lim­ited pow­ers in the face of a bru­tal so­cio-eco­nomic cri­sis and a grind­ing bat­tle against its po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents and groups of in­creas­ingly alien­ated and vi­o­lent young pro­test­ers.

The gov­ern­ment swore to con­tinue its push for to­tal po­lit­i­cal dom­i­nance of this once-pros­per­ous OPEC na­tion, a move likely to trig­ger U.S. sanc­tions and new rounds of the street fight­ing that has killed at least 122 and wounded nearly 2,000 since protests be­gan in April.

Venezuela’s chief pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice re­ported seven deaths Sun­day in clashes be­tween pro­test­ers and po­lice across the coun­try. Seven po­lice of­fi­cers were wounded when an ex­plo­sion went off as they drove past piles of trash that had been used to block­ade a street in an op­po­si­tion strong­hold in eastern Cara­cas.

Across the cap­i­tal of more than two mil­lion peo­ple, dozens of polling places were vir­tu­ally empty, in­clud­ing many that saw hours­long lines of thou­sands vot­ing to keep the gov­ern­ment in power over the last two decades. By con­trast, at the Poliedro sports and cul­tural com­plex in west­ern Cara­cas, sev­eral thou­sand peo­ple waited about two hours to vote, many drawn from op­po­si­tion-dom­i­nated neigh­bour­hoods where polling places were closed. But at least three dozen other sites vis­ited by The Associated Press had no more than a few hun­dred vot­ers at any one time, with many vir­tu­ally empty.

Op­po­si­tion lead­ers had called for a boy­cott of the vote, declar­ing it rigged for the rul­ing party, and by late af­ter­noon they were declar­ing the low turnout a re­sound­ing vic­tory.

“It’s very clear to us that the gov­ern­ment has suf­fered a de­feat to­day,” said Julio Borges, pres­i­dent of the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled but largely pow­er­less Na­tional Assem­bly. “This vote brings us closer to the gov­ern­ment leav­ing power.”

Maduro called the vote for a con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly in May af­ter a month of protests against his gov­ern­ment, which has over­seen Venezuela’s de­scent into a dev­as­tat­ing cri­sis dur­ing its four years in power. Thanks to plung­ing oil prices and wide­spread cor­rup­tion and mis­man­age­ment, Venezuela’s in­fla­tion and homi­cide rates are among the world’s high­est, and wide­spread short­ages of food and medicine have cit­i­zens dy­ing.

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