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.

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