• Friday , 21 Jul 2017
Published : 17 Jul 2017, 14:43:01AA-A+
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Woman shot dead as thousands vote in Venezuela referendum

Online Desk
Gunmen in Venezuela shot into a crowd of voters on Sunday, activists said, killing one woman and wounding three others during an unofficial referendum organised by the opposition to push for an end to two decades of socialist rule.


The opposition Democratic Unity coalition said a pro-government “paramilitary” gang opened fire in Caracas’ poor neighbourhood of Catia, where thousands were participating in the event.


Video footage showed people scattering as gunshots rang out, many taking sanctuary inside a church.


“The day was stained by the killing of a Venezuelan woman who was protesting and exercising her rights,” said opposition leader Freddy Guevara of the killing of Xiomara Escot.


“But violence cannot hide what has happened.


The people are not afraid and are clear in their decision.


“Sunday’s symbolic poll, which asked voters’ opinion on President Nicolas Maduro’s plan for a controversial new congress, was aimed at denting his legitimacy further amid a crippling economic crisis and months of anti-government protests in which 100 people have been killed.


Maduro, 54, has denounced the plebiscite as illegal and meaningless. Instead, the former bus driver and union leader is campaigning for an official vote on 30 July in support of the proposed new assembly, which would have the power to rewrite the constitution and dissolve state institutions.


The opposition cast Sunday’s unofficial referendum as an act of civil disobedience that will be followed by “zero hour,” a possible reference to a national strike or other action against the president.


Lines formed early at makeshift polling stations at theatres, sports fields, and traffic circles in the oil-rich nation of 30 million as Venezuelans furious over food shortages and rampant inflation sought to make their voices heard.


There was a festive atmosphere under the Caribbean sun in most places, with people blasting music, honking car horns, waving Venezuelan flags, and chanting “Yes we can!” More than five million people had cast ballots at 2,000 centres, the opposition said, as voting was extended into early evening so everyone waiting in line could have their say.


“Maduro has done everything very badly, and now, via a fraudulent constituent assembly, he wants to gain time, but his time is up,” said shopkeeper Rafael Betancourt, voting in late leftist leader Hugo Chavez’s home state of Barinas, which has switched to the opposition.


“This is the proof that the people will kick out whoever submits us to hunger and despair,” he added, as hundreds waited to cast their ballot.


Crowds gathered to vote in other former “Chavista” strongholds too, such as the slums of Caracas.


Despite a strong turnout, the opposition vote does not appear to augur a short-term change of government or a solution to the country’s political stalemate.


Voters were asked if they rejected the proposed new assembly, whether they wanted the armed forces to defend the existing constitution, and if they wanted elections before Maduro’s term in office ends in 2018.


The vote also included participation by swelling ranks of Venezuelans who have moved abroad, from Miami to Madrid, to escape the Opec nation’s dire economy.


Some public employees in Venezuela, under government pressure not to participate in opposition events, sought creative ways to vote without being noticed, such as traveling across town or even going in disguise.


The opposition had promised results by Sunday evening.


Source: The Guardian


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