Tue, Jul 18, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Venezuela poll a blow to Maduro, opposition says

AFP, CARACAS

Venezuelan National Assembly President Julio Borges, center, on Monday speaks at the opposition alliance’s headquarters in Caracas alongside Venezuelan lawmakers and opposition leaders after the result of a symbolic election against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his plan to rewrite the constitution.

Photo: Bloomberg

Venezuela’s opposition on Sunday voted en masse against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his plan to rewrite the constitution, hoping to use the success to demand a change of government after nearly four months of violent protests.

Deadly violence returned as a 61-year-old woman was killed and three other people were wounded when shooters on motorcycles opened fire on people lined up to vote in Catia, a working-class neighborhood in the capital, prosecutors said.

Nearly 7.2 million Venezuelans — less than the projected 10.5 million out of 19 million possible voters — cast ballots in the symbolic election against Maduro, university guarantors said, with 95 percent of votes counted.

Venezuela “sent a clear message to the national executive and the world,” Central University of Venezuela president Cecilia Garcia Arocha said, adding that 6,492,381 voted in the country and 693,789 abroad.

Final results would be released today, Garcia said.

“We do not want to be Cuba, we do not want to be a country without freedom,” Venezuelan National Assembly President Julio Borges said. “Today, Venezuela said yes to a dignified country, a democratic country, a country where people do not have to go because they have no future. The mandate the people have given us is clear.”

The woman’s death brought to 96 the number of people who have died in nearly four months of protests and political agitation in Venezuela’s streets.

The opposition blamed the attack on “paramilitary groups” linked to the government.

The central question before voters concerned Maduro’s intention to hold an election on July 30 to choose 545 members of a citizens’ body called the “constituent assembly” that would redo the constitution.

A dry run of that election was also held on Sunday, to detract from the opposition vote which the government said was “illegal.”

Maduro told the opposition to “not go crazy” with the results of its vote, although the head of the national electoral council told the opposition that the result would have “no legal consequence.”

Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affiars Samuel Moncada said on government-run VTV television that he was declaring former Mexican president Vicente Fox persona non grata and banning him from the country for conspiring to instigate violence and foreign intervention.

Moncada did not provide evidence to back his claims.

Fox, who left Venezuela late on Sunday, had traveled to the country with several other Latin American ex-leaders in a show of support for the opposition’s referendum.

The Mexican government, critical of Maduro, called for the results of the opposition consultation to lead to a “negotiated solution” to help “restore” democracy.

However, ordinary Venezuelans — blaming food and medicine shortages on Maduro’s policies — seized on the vote as a way of telling the president to leave office.

People took to Caracas’ streets after the vote shouting “this government is falling” as motorists honked their horns in celebration.

Many wore white and the colors of the national flag as they cast their votes.

Government supporters — and public workers worried about keeping their jobs — stayed away.

Borges said the vote was a watershed moment “in this fight to win back democracy for Venezuela.”

The opposition accuses Maduro of driving the country into bankruptcy, and of using the constituent assembly to entirely sideline the legislature.

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