Deadly shooting erupts at polling site
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 Nicolas Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution, a proposal that’s raising tensions in a nation battered by shortages and antigovernment protests.
A 61-year-old woman was killed and four people wounded in shooting that erupted after government supporters on motorcycles swarmed an opposition polling site in a church in the traditionally pro-government Catia neighbourhood of western Caracas.
The opposition mayor of the Caracas borough of Sucre, Carlos Ocariz, said pro-government paramilitary groups attacked voters outside the Our Lady of Carmen Church about 3 p.m.
The chief prosecutor’s office said Xiomara Soledad Scott, a nurse, had been killed and three wounded in the incident.
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 violence that he blamed on the opposition.
“I’m calling on the opposition to return to peace, to respect for the constitution, to sit and talk,” Maduro said.
“Let’s start a new round of talks, of dialogue for peace.”
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.
Participation appeared to be high, with large crowds of people lining up at tables in churches and parks across the capital.
“Since we opened at 7 a.m., the line hasn’t let up,” said Pedro Garcia, organizer of a voting station filled with hundreds of people in the south Caracas neighbourhood of El Valle, a stronghold of government support that has been weakening in recent years.
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. The petroleum-rich nation has been hit hard by falling world oil prices.
Clashes between protesters and police have left at least 93 people dead, 1,500 wounded and more than 500 behind bars.