Venezuela votes in controversial election for 'super power' assembly to rip up country's existing democratic institutions

Venezuela votes in controversial election for 'super power' assembly to rip up country's existing democratic institutionsA parliamentary candidate and an opposition activist were among five people killed on Sunday as President Nicolas Maduro defied international pressure and internal strife to hold a controversial election. Mr Maduro summoned conflict-weary Venezuela to the polls on Sunday to vote in 545 members of a new constituent assembly which his supporters claim will end months of violence, but his detractors say ushers in a dictatorship. On the eve of the vote Mr Maduro appeared on state television and did not even attempt to downplay the power grab he was orchestrating. He described the vote as "the election of a power that's above and beyond every other." He added: "It's the super power!" Rubber bullets are fired on advancing protesters on Friday in Caracas The assembly will have powers to rewrite the country's 1999 constitution. Mr Maduro said he wants the assembly to strip opposition legislators of their constitutional immunity from prosecution, and carry out “a total transformation” of the office of the chief prosecutor – a former loyalist, who has now become fiercely critical of the government. "The right wing already has its prison cell waiting," said Mr Maduro. "All the criminals will go to prison for the crimes they've committed." President Donald Trump last week imposed sanctions on 13 senior members of Mr Maduro’s regime, and his administration has threatened economic retaliation for going ahead with the vote. That could include halting Venezuela’s sale of oil to the US, which would potentially bankrupt the country. Luis Vicente Leon, head of the Datanalisis polling company, said the constituent assembly was being formed because the uncharismatic Mr Maduro – whose term is meant to finish next year – "can't win elections." Mr Maduro, a former bus driver, voted before dawn on Sunday, casting his ballot in a polling station a few hundred feet from a church where, earlier this month, a 61-year-old nurse was shot dead by men accused of being pro-government paramilitaries. #NOTICIA ✅Pdte. @NicolasMaduro: El Poder #Constituyente hoy nace del #Pueblo. #VenezuelaVotaHoyhttps://t.co/kPkDOPRKjQpic.twitter.com/tyYHt76bJt— Prensa Presidencial (@PresidencialVen) July 30, 2017 Over 100 people have died since April 1, as protests against Mr Maduro’s government have paralysed vast chunks of the country – aggravating shortages of essential goods and highlighting the humanitarian crisis.  In the early hours of Sunday a 39-year-old lawyer running for election to the assembly, Jose Felix Pineda, was murdered by gunmen who stormed into his home in the southeastern town of Ciudad Bolivar. Ricardo Campos, leader of the youth wing of the opposition Accion Democratica, was killed outside his home in the town of Cumaná. Two others – Marcel Pereira and Iraldo Guitérrez – were killed during protests in the Andean city of Merida. In Tovar, a local photojournalist, Leonardo Leon, captured an image of two priests appearing to make themselves human shields between the protesters and the riot police. Sacerdotes de #Tovar tratan de mediar para tratar de contener la represión. Hay heridos graves..#Mérida#30jul.. pic.twitter.com/69FDhdFCfw— Leonardo León (@leoperiodista) July 30, 2017 He reported that one protested had been killed, and several others severely wounded in the clashes. In the Plaza Altamira, in central Caracas, several police were injured when protesters threw a homemade firework at them as they passed on their motorbikes.  Así fue la fuerte explosión en la Plaza Altamira contra cuerpo de seguridad del Estado. Varios PNB heridos (video cortesía) #30julpic.twitter.com/9C7t3Kf1ey— Carlos Arana Sánchez (@CarlosAranaSan) July 30, 2017 Henrique Capriles, an opposition leader, said: "the government wants to sell the constituent assembly as a solution to the problems. But it's only aggravating them." Photos on social media showed some empty polling stations. Mr Maduro’s supporters, however, posted images of people queuing to vote. And the government tried to encourage participation by offering social benefits like subsidised food to the poor, and threatening state workers' jobs if they did not vote. In a public school in La Candelaria, a district of western Caracas, Jesus Placios, 67, told The Telegraph he was voting “because this is my duty as a citizen.” He added: “I really hope this new assembly will solve our problems.” Around 20 people were waiting patiently to vote when The Telegraph visited and, unlike in the east of the city – the epicentre of the protests – the scene was peaceful.  Beatriz Castillo, 73, exited the polling both holding hands with her husband, Ramon. “I came to vote because I'm retired and I'm living on my pension,” said Mrs Castillo. “I'm afraid that if I don't vote they could take my pension away.” Mr Maduro, however, said after casting his vote that he believed the election would usher in peace. "We've stoically withstood the terrorist, criminal violence," he said.  "Hopefully the world will respectfully extend its arms toward our country."



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