Venezuela braces for new protests af­ter deadly vote

‘What the hell do we care what Trump says?’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Venezuela braced for new protests yes­ter­day af­ter a con­tro­ver­sial elec­tion for an assem­bly to re­write the con­sti­tu­tion un­leashed a wave of un­rest that left 10 peo­ple dead. Op­po­nents of em­bat­tled Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro vowed another day of na­tion­wide marches, de­fy­ing an in­ten­si­fy­ing crack­down on protests that have left more than 120 peo­ple dead in four months.

Flout­ing in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion-in­clud­ing the threat of new sanc­tions by US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion-Maduro mean­while claimed vic­tory in Sun­day’s elec­tion, cit­ing an of­fi­cial turnout fig­ure of 41.5 per­cent. The left­ist leader en­cour­aged the new “Con­stituent Assem­bly” to wield its vast pow­ers to scrap op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers’ im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion as one of its first acts. Pro­test­ers at­tacked polling sta­tions and bar­ri­caded streets around the coun­try on Sun­day, draw­ing a bloody re­sponse from se­cu­rity forces, who opened fire with live am­mu­ni­tion in some cases. De­spite the un­rest and an op­po­si­tion boy­cott, the Na­tional Elec­toral Coun­cil said there had been “ex­tra­or­di­nary turnout” of more than eight mil­lion vot­ers.

Dressed in bright red, his fist clenched and face beam­ing, Maduro hailed it as a win in a speech to hun­dreds of cheer­ing sup­port­ers in cen­tral Cara­cas early yes­ter­day. “It is the big­gest vote the rev­o­lu­tion has ever scored in its 18year his­tory,” he said, re­fer­ring to the year his late men­tor, Hugo Chavez, came to power. “What the hell do we care what Trump says?”

Mem­bers of the new assem­bly will in­clude his wife Cilia Flores, his pug­na­cious right-hand man Dios­dado Ca­bello, and other staunch al­lies. The so­cial­ist pres­i­dent is gam­bling his four-year rule on the 545-mem­ber assem­bly, which will be em­pow­ered to dis­solve the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled congress and re­write the con­sti­tu­tion.

There was blis­ter­ing in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion of the vote, led by Washington. The con­stituent assem­bly aims to “un­der­mine the Venezue­lan peo­ple’s right to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion,” US State De­part­ment spokes­woman Heather Nauert said in a state­ment. It threat­ened fur­ther “strong and swift” sanc­tions on Maduro’s gov­ern­ment, af­ter the US slapped sanc­tions on 13 cur­rent and for­mer of­fi­cials last week.

The elec­tion was also con­demned by the Euro­pean Union, Canada and Latin Amer­i­can pow­ers in­clud­ing Ar­gentina, Brazil, Colom­bia and Mex­ico. Se­nior op­po­si­tion leader Hen­rique Capriles called on Venezue­lans to con­tinue de­fy­ing the deeply un­pop­u­lar Maduro with new protests against the elec­tion and the “mas­sacre” he said ac­com­pa­nied it. “We do not rec­og­nize this fraud­u­lent process,” he said, call­ing for na­tion­wide marches yes­ter­day at noon (1600 GMT) and a mass protest in Cara­cas to­mor­row, the day the new assem­bly is due to be in­stalled.

Maduro has banned protests over the vote, threat­en­ing prison terms of up to 10 years. The death toll in Sun­day’s protests in­cluded a can­di­date for the new assem­bly, a re­gional op­po­si­tion leader, two teenage pro­test­ers and a sol­dier in the west­ern state of Tachira, which saw some of the worst vi­o­lence. In eastern Cara­cas, seven po­lice were wounded when an im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive tar­geted their mo­tor­cy­cle con­voy. Na­tional guard troops used ar­mored ve­hi­cles, rub­ber bul­lets and tear gas to dis­perse pro­test­ers block­ing roads in the cap­i­tal and other cities.

Ac­cord­ing to polling firm Datanal­i­sis, more than 70 per­cent of Venezue­lans op­pose the idea of the new as­sem­blyand 80 per­cent re­ject Maduro, whose term is meant to end in 2019. Venezue­lans also protested in Mi­ami, Madrid and var­i­ous Latin Amer­i­can cities. The num­ber of Venezue­lans liv­ing abroad has soared as the once-boom­ing oil pro­ducer has de­scended into a dev­as­tat­ing eco­nomic cri­sis marked by short­ages, run­away in­fla­tion, ri­ots and loot­ing.

The US en­voy to the United Na­tions, Nikki Ha­ley, con­demned the vote as a “sham”—a word also used by Bri­tain’s ju­nior for­eign min­is­ter, Alan Duncan, and many ex­perts. “The vote means the end of any trace of demo­cratic rule. Maduro’s bla­tant power grab re­moves any am­bi­gu­ity about whether Venezuela is a democ­racy,” said Michael Shifter, head of the In­ter-Amer­i­can Di­a­logue re­search cen­ter. —AFP


CARA­CAS: Anti-gov­ern­ment ac­tivists drag a po­lice mo­tor­bike burnt af­ter the ex­plo­sion of an ex­plo­sive de­vice dur­ing a protest against the elec­tions for a Con­stituent Assem­bly.

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