Can­di­date killed as vi­o­lence erupts in Venezuela vote

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Deadly vi­o­lence erupted around a con­tro­ver­sial vote held in Venezuela yes­ter­day, with a can­di­date to the all-pow­er­ful assem­bly be­ing elected shot dead in his home and troops fir­ing weapons to clear pro­test­ers in Caracas. The un­rest high­lighted the ten­sions over the vote called by be­lea­guered Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro de­spite months of demon­stra­tions and fierce in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism.

He is gam­bling his four-year rule on the 545mem­ber cit­i­zens’ “Con­stituent Assem­bly” em­pow­ered to dis­solve the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled con­gress and change laws as it re­forms the na­tion’s con­sti­tu­tion. A can­di­date for the new body in Venezuela’s south­east­ern town of Ci­u­dad Bo­li­var, 39-year-old lawyer Jose Felix Pineda, was killed from mul­ti­ple shots fired by as­sailants who broke into his home overnight, pros­e­cu­tors said.

He was the sec­ond can­di­date to be mur­dered, af­ter the July 10 death of another, Jose Luis Ri­vas, as he was cam­paign­ing in the north­ern city of Mara­cay. In the west of Caracas, na­tional guard troops fan­ning out to put down any dis­rup­tion to the elec­tion used ar­mored ve­hi­cles and fired shots to dis­perse pro­test­ers block­ing roads.

Video posted on Twit­ter showed troops smash­ing down a metal gate and en­ter­ing to the sounds of gun­fire, and what ap­peared to be an ar­mored ve­hi­cle on fire. The op­po­si­tion has called for a boy­cott and mass demon­stra­tions against the elec­tion, which it calls a bid by Maduro to in­stall a dic­ta­tor­ship with the back­ing of the mil­i­tary.

Four months of protests against Maduro and the new assem­bly have left more than 100 peo­ple dead. Maduro kicked off vot­ing by cast­ing his bal­lot in a west Caracas polling sta­tion. “I’m the first voter in the coun­try. I ask God for his bless­ings so the peo­ple can freely ex­er­cise their demo­cratic right to vote,” the pres­i­dent said. He was ac­com­pa­nied by his wife, Cilia Flores, who is a can­di­date to sit on the new assem­bly.

Turnout will be key to de­ter­min­ing the le­git­i­macy of the elec­tion. But that will be dif­fi­cult to as­cer­tain as most vot­ers will be able to vote twice, as can­di­dates are drawn from so­cial and in­dus­try sec­tors as well as ge­o­graph­i­cally. Sur­veys by Datanal­i­sis, a pro-op­po­si­tion polling firm, show more than 70 per­cent of Venezue­lans op­posed the idea of the new assem­bly-and 80 per­cent re­ject Maduro’s lead­er­ship. Maduro de­creed a ban on protests dur­ing and af­ter the vote, threat­en­ing prison terms of up to 10 years for any­one vi­o­lat­ing the or­der. Fear of the vi­o­lence wors­en­ing has rip­pled across the re­gion, and be­yond. The US, the EU and Latin Amer­i­can pow­ers, in­clud­ing Ar­gentina, Brazil, Colom­bia and Mex­ico, have come out against the elec­tion, say­ing it would de­stroy Venezue­lan democ­racy.

US sanc­tions

Sev­eral for­eign air­lines, in­clud­ing Air France, Delta, Avianca and Ibe­ria have sus­pended flights to the coun­try over wor­ries about se­cu­rity. Fam­i­lies of US diplo­mats have been or­dered to leave fol­low­ing the im­po­si­tion of Amer­i­can sanc­tions on 13 cur­rent and for­mer Venezue­lan of­fi­cials. Maduro-who has de­scribed the Con­stituent Assem­bly as a “card that will win this game”-on Satur­day called the vote “the most im­por­tant elec­tion held in Venezuela’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.”

One voter yes­ter­day, Ana Con­tr­eras, said: “I have come to vote to tell the grin­gos and the op­po­si­tion that we want peace, not war, and that we sup­port Maduro.” Freddy Gue­vara, an op­po­si­tion law­maker, said Maduro was “mak­ing the big­gest his­tor­i­cal mis­take he could com­mit.” The head of Datanal­i­sis, Luis Vi­cente Leon, said the Con­stituent Assem­bly “wasn’t be­ing formed to solve the coun­try’s prob­lems,” but was be­cause the un­charis­matic Maduro-whose term is meant to fin­ish next year-”can’t win elec­tions.”

‘Ner­vous’ Venezue­lans

Colom­bia and Panama-refuges for tens of thou­sands of Venezue­lans flee­ing the chaos at home­have said they will not rec­og­nize the re­sults yes­ter­day’s elec­tion in Venezuela. At an overnight protest in Villa del Rosario, a Colom­bian town on the Venezue­lan bor­der, hun­dreds of Venezue­lans tak­ing shel­ter there de­cried the elec­tion. “We don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen in this sit­u­a­tion cre­ated by this pres­i­dent,” said one of them, Bella Buitrago, 48. “We’re all ex­tremely ner­vous.” Some in Maduro’s ad­min­is­tra­tion have bro­ken ranks with him, most promi­nently his at­tor­ney gen­eral. Two diplo­mats re­signed this week in dis­sent: one at the United Na­tions and another at the em­bassy in Panama. The Venezue­lan leader has blamed the mount­ing un­rest against him and his poli­cies on the United States, work­ing hand-in-hand with the Venezue­lan op­po­si­tion to wage an “eco­nomic war.” — AFP

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