1 death is re­ported in Venezuela dur­ing vote

The Washington Post - - THE WORLD - BY MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN AND FABIOLA SANCHEZ

CARACAS, VENEZUELA — Hun­dreds of thou­sands of Venezue­lans lined up across the coun­try and in ex­pa­tri­ate com­mu­ni­ties around the world Sunday to vote in a sym­bolic re­jec­tion of President Ni­colás Maduro’s plan to re­write the con­sti­tu­tion, a pro­posal that has raised ten­sions in a na­tion bat­tered by short­ages and antigov­ern­ment protests.

At least one per­son was killed and three wounded in shoot­ings that erupted af­ter gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers on mo­tor­cy­cles swarmed an op­po­si­tion polling site in a church in the tra­di­tion­ally pro-gov­ern­ment Ca­tia neigh­bor­hood of west­ern Caracas.

Car­los Ocariz, the op­po­si­tion mayor of the Caracas bor­ough of Su­cre, said pro-gov­ern­ment para­mil­i­tary groups had at­tacked vot­ers out­side the Our Lady of Car­men Church about 3 p.m.

Maduro made no men­tion of the in­ci­dent in com­ments on state tele­vi­sion shortly af­ter the of­fi­cial close of op­po­si­tion polls at 4 p.m., but he called for an end to the vi­o­lence, which he blamed on the op­po­si­tion.

In what ap­peared to be smaller num­bers in many parts of the cap­i­tal, gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers went to polling sta­tions in a re­hearsal for a July 30 vote to elect mem­bers of the assem­bly that will re­tool Venezuela’s 1999 con­sti­tu­tion.

The op­po­si­tion says that vote has been struc­tured to pack the con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly with gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers and al­low Maduro to elim­i­nate the few re­main­ing checks on his power, cre­at­ing a Cuba-style sys­tem dom­i­nated by his so­cial­ist party.

The op­po­si­tion is boy­cotting the con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly. In­stead, it called back­ers to 2,000 sites across the coun­try Sunday to fill out bal­lots fea­tur­ing three yes-or-no ques­tions. Do they re­ject the con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly? Do they want the armed forces to back congress? Do they sup­port the for­ma­tion of a gov­ern­ment com­prised both of Maduro back­ers and op­po­nents?

The gov­ern­ment called the op­po­si­tion vote a ma­nip­u­la­tion aimed at desta­bi­liz­ing the coun­try, and has been urg­ing its sup­port­ers to par­tic­i­pate in the con­sti­tu­tional assem­bly.

Polls show that barely 20 per­cent of Venezue­lans fa­vor rewrit­ing the late Hugo Chávez’s 1999 con­sti­tu­tion — about the same level of sup­port as for Maduro.

Op­po­nents of Venezuela’s gov­ern­ment blame it for turn­ing one of the re­gion’s most pros­per­ous coun­tries into an eco­nomic bas­ket case with a shrink­ing econ­omy, soar­ing in­fla­tion and wide­spread short­ages. The gov­ern­ment blames the cri­sis on an eco­nomic war waged by its op­po­nents and out­side back­ers.

Clashes be­tween protesters and the po­lice have left at least 93 peo­ple dead, 1,500 wounded and more than 500 be­hind bars.

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