Venezuela Bans 'Public Assemblies' After Failing to End Protests

Venezuela Bans 'Public Assemblies' After Failing to End Protests

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was pushing forward Saturday with a controversial weekend vote, despite growing domestic political opposition, worldwide condemnation and deadly street protests.

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.

From Friday, those taking part in rallies, demonstrations, marches that "could disturb or affect" the vote planned for Sunday would face between five and 10 years in prison, Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said, reading a presidential decree.

Diosdado Cabello, first vice-president of Venezuela's socialist party, says the assembly will strip legislators in the opposition-controlled National Assembly of their immunity from prosecution.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a coalition of opposition parties, organized a 48-hour general strike in the city of Caracas, leaving the streets empty, stores closed, and pausing daily life in the capital.

Several countries and global organizations, including the US and European Union, have condemned the vote for Sunday.

With regard to the legitimacy of the vote itself, the spokesperson noted that it is "a hugely controversial issue" amplified by the fact that there had been an unofficial consultation by the opposition on the constituent assembly. The 46-year-old former Caracas-area mayor, who was sentenced to 14 years in 2015 after being convicted of inciting violence during a previous spate of protests, also appealed to the military not to deploy for Sunday's election.

Colombia's finance minister earlier Firday told a local radio station that his nation would sanction the same 13 current and former high-level Venezuelan officials cited by the USA government earlier in the week.

NAN reports that 100 people have died in anti-government unrest convulsing Venezuela since April, when the opposition launched protests demanding conventional elections to end almost two decades of socialist rule.

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The new assembly would comprise 545 citizens chosen from across the country, and from societal sectors over which Maduro's government holds influence.

Delta, one of the last airlines still serving Venezuela, said on Twitter that it could not guarantee service after September. "They took his violin and hit him with it", Romero said.

Venezuelans will head to the polls on Sunday to choose delegates that would help rewrite the country's constitution in one of the country's most divisive elections.

It called mass protests for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The White House says U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has spoken with Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez about the political unrest wracking the South American nation.

That may have been more of an effort to pressure Maduro than to respond to the country's security situation, which has been challenging for years, said one former senior Central Intelligence Agency official.

"Maduro's opponents say the assembly's rigged to be pro-government and will rewrite the constitution to make Venezuela an all-out dictatorship", NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

Colombia Migration Director Christian Kruger said Friday the status will be good for up to two years and let recipients work and receive social security benefits.

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