Millions vote in Venezuela poll

Handout.  Reuters
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a ceremony at the National Pantheon in Caracas

Sunday, almost 7.2 million Venezuelans voted in a hastily arranged referendum created to voice their opposition to the socialist president's plans to rewrite the country's constitution.

In the face of a debilitating economic crisis (the value of oil, #Venezuela's main export, has fallen by almost 70% and inflation is up 200%) and increasing political upheaval, Venezuela's president, Nicolas Maduro, scheduled a constitutional referendum to be held on July 30th.

A coalition of some 20 opposition parties planned to formally call Monday for the launch of what it called the "zero hour" campaign of civil disobedience in the two weeks leading to the government vote. Local media reported that government-backed militias had taken aim at opposition protesters, forcing many to seek refuge as the gun shots rained down.

National Assembly President Julio Borges told local radio station that the opposition has to "escalate and deepen this street movement". "We don't want to be a country without freedom".

"Prisoners are persecuted in front of arbitrary military tribunals, violating the Constitution...as if they were risky animals", they added.

According Cecilia García Arocha, rector of the Central University of Venezuela, 7,186,170 votes were in favor of the opposition.

Maduro told the opposition to "not go crazy" with the results of its vote, though the head of the national electoral council told the opposition that the result would have "no legal outcome".

He said: "I'm calling on the opposition to return to peace, to respect for the constitution, to sit and talk".

Maduro tried to counter the show of support by the opposition by holding a "practice vote" for his new constitutional assembly at the same time.

Maduro and the military dominate most state institutions, but the opposition controls the congress and holds three of 23 governorships.

"We can assume that the number of people voting was less than that which would turn out to vote in a regular election".

Over 7 million out of 19.5 million eligible voters have participated in the opposition poll, nearly the number of 7.7 million voters who backed the opposition in the last presidential elections.

The woman's death brought to 96 the number of people who have died in almost four months of protests and political agitation in Venezuela's streets. "The mandate the people have given us is clear".

Opposition leaders hailed it as a success, while also mourning the death of one woman killed by gunmen in Caracas during the voting.

Late Sunday Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada said on Twitter that he was declaring former Mexican President Vicente Fox persona non grata and banning him from the country for conspiring to promote violence and foreign intervention.

Venezuelan bishops have warned that President Maduro is seeking to establish a "socialist, Marxist and militaristic" state as tensions continue to rise in the Latin American country.

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