MADURO CLAIMS VIC­TORY IN POLLS

10 die as op­po­si­tion leader calls for new protests; US threat­ens fur­ther sanc­tions

New Straits Times - - World - CARA­CAS

VENEZUE­LAN Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro claimed vic­tory yes­ter­day in an in­ter­na­tion­al­ly­crit­i­cised elec­tion for an assem­bly to re­write the con­sti­tu­tion, but the op­po­si­tion cried fraud and vowed to keep protest­ing de­spite a deadly crack­down.

Ten peo­ple were killed in a wave of blood­shed that swept the coun­try on Sun­day as Maduro de­fied an op­po­si­tion boy­cott and in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion, in­clud­ing the threat of new United States sanc­tions, to hold elec­tions for a pow­er­ful new “Con­stituent Assem­bly”.

Protesters at­tacked polling sta­tions and bar­ri­caded streets around the coun­try, draw­ing a bloody re­sponse from se­cu­rity forces, who opened fire with live am­mu­ni­tion in some cases.

De­spite the boy­cott and the un­rest, the head of the Na­tional Elec­toral Coun­cil, Tibisay Lu­cena — one of 13 Maduro al­lies slapped with sanc­tions by US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion — said there had been “ex­tra­or­di­nary turnout” of more than eight mil­lion vot­ers, 41.5 per cent of the elec­torate.

Dressed in bright red, his fist clenched and face beam­ing, Maduro hailed it as a win in a speech to hun­dreds of cheer­ing sup­port­ers here.

“It is the big­gest vote the rev­o­lu­tion has ever scored in its 18-year 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.

In his speech, he en­cour­aged the assem­bly to scrap op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers’ im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion as one of its first acts.

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 spokesman Heather Nauert said, threat­en­ing fur­ther “strong and swift” sanc­tions on Maduro’s gov­ern­ment.

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 recog­nise this fraud­u­lent process,” he said, call­ing for a mass protest here 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.

Pros­e­cu­tors said 10 peo­ple were killed in vi­o­lence around the vote, bring­ing the death toll in four months of protests to more than 120 peo­ple.

Those killed 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 ar­moured 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 per cent of Venezue­lans op­pose the idea of the new assem­bly and 80 per cent re­ject Maduro, whose term is meant to end in 2019.

“The peo­ple are not go­ing to give up the streets un­til this aw­ful gov­ern­ment goes,” pro­tester Car­los Zam­brano, 54, said here.

Venezue­lans also protested in Mi­ami, Madrid and 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”.

“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 cen­tre. AFP

EPA PIC

A blast from an im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive tar­get­ing a po­lice mo­tor­cy­cle con­voy in Cara­cas on Sun­day.

Hen­rique Capriles

Ni­co­las Maduro

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