Saturday, 19 August, 2017

Maduro presses on with polls despite protests

Reuters Reuters
Connie Andrews | 30 July, 2017, 01:01

Small numbers of protesters on Friday defied a ban on demonstrations in Venezuela, ahead of a controversial weekend election called by President Nicolas Maduro that has already provoked deadly violence and worldwide criticism.

More than 100 people have died in protests and other incidents linked to the unrest, the attorney general's office has said, often without elaborating on how they died or who killed them. Violators could receive prison sentences of five to 10 years, according to the government.

"I'd like Canada to follow the United States in naming and specifically targeting individuals with sanctions, but also, as the United States has promised, if the constituent assembly does move ahead, there would be serious economic repercussions in terms of more general sanctions", Mr. Kent said.

"The dire economic crisis that Venezuela is facing - with rampant shortages of food, medicine and other basic goods - is a major factor contributing to the country's current political instability", Alexander Main, a senior associate for global policy at the Center for Economic Policy and Research, told ABC News via email.

The Trump administration announced sanctions on 13 current and former members of Maduro's administration, freezing their US assets and barring Americans from doing business with them.

Venezuela's chief prosecutor is reporting at least 114 deaths in almost four months of protests against President Nicolas Maduro's government.

The Constituent Assembly would have power to rewrite the constitution and shut down the existing opposition-led legislature, which the opposition says would cement dictatorship in Venezuela. Protesters say the election of a constitutional assembly will allow Maduro to eliminate democratic checks and balances and install an authoritarian single-party system. The vote comes after months of economic crisis, political instability, mass protests, sanctions from the US and violence.

"If they ever got sanctions from the USA - that would be completely crippling", says Diego Ferro, co-investment officer at Greylock Capital, a US firm that owns Venezuelan debt.

Voters will choose 545 members of the National Constituent Assembly, or ANC, which would become the highest authority in Venezuela.

The military, they said, "is constitutionally called to defend the lives of all citizens, without any distinction of class or political affiliation". Protesters are planning to expand their demonstrations, and officials are anxious those protests could turn violent.

"But if I take my helmet off, I would say I'm totally against" the vote, he said.

President Donald Trump has warned his administration could impose economic sanctions on Venezuela if Maduro goes ahead with the vote to create the legislative superbody.

Protesters blocked more than a dozen intersections Friday in Caracas.

The death toll in the violent Venezuelan protests against the government's call to rewrite the Constitution has increased to 107, officials confirmed.

Far from derail Maduro, the Venezuelan leader appeared emboldened by the sanctions, praising those accused by the US government of undermining the nation's democracy and abusing human rights.

Santos says he will continue advocating for a peaceful resolution to Venezuela's almost four months of political upheaval that has left at least 113 people dead. The extension lasts for 90 days and can be renewed for up to two years.

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