Venezuela braces for new protests after deadly vote
President Maduro claims victory in Sunday’s election, citing a turnout of 41.5%
Caracas, Venezuela - Venezuela braced for new protests on Monday 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 per cent.
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 on Monday.
“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.
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 recognise this fraudulent process,” he said, calling for a mass protest in Caracas on Wednesday, the day the new assembly is due to be installed.
Maduro has banned protests over the vote, threatening prison terms of up to ten 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.
The constituent assembly aims to undermine the Venezuelan people’s right to self-determination
A protester (left) fires from an improvised handgun during clashes with security forces, in Caracas on Sunday; a video grab (right) shows police officers helping a colleague who caught fire after an explosive device went off on a street as they rode past during the protest in Caracas on Sunday