Deadly clashes took place across Venezuela disrupting an election for a controversial constitutional assembly called by President Nicolas Maduro which according to the opposition would turn the country into a dictatorship, the media reported. A key opposition leader Henrique Capriles has confirmed that at least 14 people were killed in the nationwide clashes that began from Saturday night with over 400 others injured, reports Efe news. Capriles also said that just 9 per cent of Venezuela’s 19.5 million eligible voters had gone to the polls on Sunday to vote for the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), a body that President Maduro created to rewrite the nation’s constitution.
Maduro contends that the assembly is necessary to restore order in oil-rich Venezuela, which has been racked by near-daily protests and a deep economic crisis, but the president’s opponents say it is merely a cynical ploy to buy time until elections scheduled for October 2018. However, the opposition has refused to recognise the vote, which comes after months of violent protests in Caracas and other cities against the government and its plan to rewrite the constitution to give Maduro more power.
The opposition also tried to oust Maduro last year via a recall referendum drive and accuses the president of illegally blocking that drive. Meanwhile, the non-governmental organisation Foro Penal Venezolano said that 64 people had been arrested, with 30 of those arrests coming in the northwest state of Zulia, while there were five each in the states of Merida and Monagas, six in Aragua, and three each in the capital city of Caracas and in Carabobo and Anzoategui states.
Protesters burned a traffic police station in Caracas. Images posted on Twitter showed the building – which also houses the municipal police of the Chacao district and other official offices – on fire. Seven National Police officers were injured when two of their motorcycles, along with two civilian motorcycles, blew up on Altamira Square near an anti-government protest in the capital.
The election has been heavily criticised by other Latin American countries as well as by the European Union (EU) and the US, reports the BBC. Venezuela has said it will withdraw from the Organisation of American States (OAS) after members including the US, Canada and Mexico said they would not recognise the authority of the assembly.
Venezuela has already been suspended from regional economic bloc Mercosur by fellow-members Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, following concern over human rights. On Sunday, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, dismissed the vote as a “sham election” and a “step towards dictatorship”.