Maduro presses on with Venezuela vote despite protests

Caracas: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was pushing forward on Saturday with a controversial weekend vote, despite growing domestic political opposition, international condemnation and deadly street protests.
On Friday, his forces faced small groups of protesters defying a ban he had imposed on demonstrations against the election he has called on Sunday to choose a new body to rewrite the constitution.
Blockades went up across a few roads in Caracas and in a border town with Colombia, San Cristobal as well as in Maracaibo and Guayana, but the scale was far less than the mass protests seen earlier this week before the ban took effect.
“It’s normal that there’s fear, but people are still coming out into the streets despite it all,” a lawmaker in the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Freddy Guevara, said at one of the Caracas protests. Maduro on Thursday warned that anyone taking part in protests against his “Constituent Assembly” risked up to 10 years in prison.
The threat appeared to dampen public anti-government demonstrations of the sort that, in the past four months, have led to 113 deaths — eight of them during a two-day general strike that ended on Thursday. The most recent reported fatality occurred on Friday when an 18-year-old protester was killed in San Cristobal.
Human rights organisers said another activist, a 23-year-old violinist famous for playing at anti-government protests, had been arrested in Caracas. An opposition mayor, Alfredo Ramos, was also arrested for not lifting barricades under a court order.
Meanwhile, international censure of Maduro remained fierce. US Vice President Mike Pence spoke by telephone to a detained prominent Venezuelan opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, who early this month was moved from prison to house arrest. In implicit support for the opposition, Pence praised Lopez’s “courage.” He also called for the “unconditional release of all political prisoners in Venezuela, free and fair elections, restoration of the National Assembly, and respect for human rights in Venezuela,” a statement from his office said. — AFP