Caracas: Deadly protests rocked Venezuela on Sunday as voters broadly boycotted an election for a constitutional super-body that unpopular leftist President Nicolas Maduro vowed would begin a “new era of combat” in the crisis-stricken nation.
Anti-Maduro activists wearing hoods or masks erected barricades on roads, and scuffles broke out with security forces who moved in quickly to disperse demonstrators who denounced the election as a naked power grab by the president.
Authorities said 10 people were killed in the confrontations, which made Sunday one of the deadliest days since massive protests started in early April.
Maduro, widely disliked for overseeing an unraveling of Venezuela’s economy, has promised the assembly will bring peace by way of a new constitution after four months of opposition protests in which more than 120 people have been killed.
Opposition parties sat out the election, saying it was rigged to increase Maduro’s powers, a view shared by countries including Spain, Canada, Colombia and the United States. The Trump administration is considering imposing US sanctions on Venezuela’s vital oil sector in response to Sunday’s election, US officials said.
Potential US sanctions on sales of light crude to Venezuela’s oil company PDVSA would hamper its already weak refining network.
Caracas was largely shut down, streets were deserted and polling stations were mostly empty, dealing a blow to the legitimacy of the vote. A bomb exploded in the capital and wounded seven police officers in what could be the spread of more aggressive tactics.
Critics say the assembly will allow Maduro to dissolve the opposition-run Congress, delay future elections and rewrite electoral rules to prevent the socialists from being voted out of power. The opposition vowed to hold protests again on Monday and to keep pressuring Maduro’s cash-strapped government until he’s forced from office.
“The ’emperor’ Donald Trump wanted to halt the Venezuelan people’s right to vote,” said Maduro as he rapidly voted at 6 a.m. in a low-income area of Caracas that has turned on the government. “A new era of combat will begin. We’re going all out with this constituent assembly,” he said.
But with polls showing some 70 per cent of Venezuelans oppose the vote, the country’s 2.8 million state employees are under huge pressure to participate – with some two dozen sources telling Reuters they were being threatened with dismissal.
The opposition estimated participation was at around a paltry 12 percent, but warned the government was gearing up to announce some 8.5 million people had voted.