Tuesday 24 April 2018

Venezuela faces bloody protests and sanctions after election 'win'

President Nicolas Maduro. Photo: AP
President Nicolas Maduro. Photo: AP

Dan Fairbarn

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro claimed victory yesterday in an internationally criticised election for an assembly to rewrite the constitution, but the opposition cried fraud and vowed to keep protesting despite a deadly crackdown.

Ten people were killed in a wave of bloodshed that swept Venezuela on Sunday as Mr Maduro defied an opposition boycott and international condemnation - including the threat of new US sanctions - to hold elections for a powerful new 'Constituent Assembly'.

The country was braced yesterday for another wave of violent protests, which have now been erupting for months.

Protesters attacked polling stations and barricaded streets around the country, drawing a bloody response from security forces, who opened fire with live ammunition in some cases.

Despite the boycott and the unrest, the head of the National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena - one of 13 Maduro allies already slapped with sanctions by US President Donald Trump's administration - said there had been "extraordinary turnout" of more than eight million voters, 41.5pc of the electorate.

This figure is disputed by the opposition, who say that 88pc of Venezuelans abstained.

Dressed in bright red, his fist clenched and face beaming, Mr Maduro hailed it as a win in a speech to hundreds of cheering supporters in central Caracas.

"It is the biggest vote the revolution has ever scored in its 18-year history," he said, referring to the year his late mentor, Hugo Chavez, came to power.

"What the hell do we care what Trump says?"

Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, slammed the election as a move towards dictatorship.

Members of the new assembly will include Mr Maduro's wife Cilia Flores, his pugnacious right-hand man Diosdado Cabello, and other staunch allies.

The socialist president is gambling his four-year rule on the 545-member assembly, which will be empowered to dissolve the opposition-controlled congress and rewrite the constitution.

In his speech, he encouraged the assembly to scrap opposition lawmakers' immunity from prosecution as one of its first acts.

There was blistering international condemnation of the vote, led by Washington.

The election was also condemned by the European Union, Canada and Latin American powers including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.

Senior opposition leader Henrique Capriles called on Venezuelans to continue defying the deeply unpopular Mr Maduro with new protests against the election and the "massacre" he said accompanied it.

"We do not recognise this fraudulent process," he said, calling for nationwide marches and a mass protest in Caracas tomorrow, the day the new assembly is due to be installed.

Mr Maduro has banned protests over the vote, threatening prison terms of up to 10 years.

Prosecutors said 10 people were killed in violence around the vote, bringing the death toll in four months of protests to more than 120 people.

Irish Independent

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