Published: Mon, July 17, 2017
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

In Unofficial Vote, Venezuelans Overwhelmingly Reject Constitutional Rewrite

In Unofficial Vote, Venezuelans Overwhelmingly Reject Constitutional Rewrite

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Venezuelan opposition leaders called Monday for supporters to escalate street protests after more than 7.1 million people rejected a government plan to rewrite the constitution and consolidate its power over a country stricken by shortages and inflation and riven by more than 100 days of clashes between protesters and police.

Canada and Mexico were among the countries that issued statements Sunday evening lauding the opposition exercise. "What we're trying to accomplish is try to get Venezuela freedom, the same freedom we have here", activist Rangel Melendez said.

Amid ongoing turmoil, an overwhelming majority of those who voted in an unofficial referendum organized by Venezuela's opposition has rejected the motion of leftist President Nicolas Maduro to change the constitution and supplant the opposition-leadning Parliament with a "Constituent Assembly". NPR's Philip Reeves notes that number - which includes almost 700,000 expatriots who voted overseas - constitutes about a third of Venezuela's registered voters. "This vote was made with 14,000 polling stations, when in a normal election there are 45,000", he said at the end of the day. "I think it's going to embolden the global community to reject it".

Earlier, the government declared former Mexican President Vicente Fox a persona-non-grata after he participated as an observer in the opposition consultation. Moncada offered no evidence to support his accusations.

The opposition wants new elections before Mr Maduro's term expires in early 2019 and say rewriting the constitution would nearly certainly delay this year's regional elections and next year's presidential election. A 61-year-old nurse was shot dead and three more were injured when men on motorbikes - described by the opposition as members of a "paramilitary" - opened fire on a polling place.

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Venezuela's highly controversial President Nicolas Maduro has slammed the opposition referendum.

"Don't go insane, calm down", he said on Sunday, vowing his Constituent Assembly would bring peace to the volatile nation of 30 million people.

But Isabel Santander, a 67-year-old retired auditor, said she was voting against the constitutional assembly as a protest against the country's economic collapse.

"I signed because there's no medicine, no food, no security", she said.

"The results seem to confirm that the opposition would easily defeat the government in any election".

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Maduro, a socialist who replaced his mentor Hugo Chavez after his death in 2013, has dismissed the referendum as meaningless, and is vowing to press ahead with a vote for the Constituent Assembly on July 30, claiming it is the only way to lead the country out of its political and economic crisis. "There's no separation of powers, no freedom of expression".

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

Mr Maduro and military dominate most state institutions, but the Opposition controls Congress and holds three of 23 governorships. One pointed to the rejection of the Constituent Assembly convened by Maduro; Another, asked if the Bolivarian National Armed Forces were "required to obey and defend the Constitution"; And the last one, inquired whether they supported a renewal of public powers and the formation of a Government of national unity.

In an attempt to further undermine the opposition, Maduro's government held its polls, labeling them simulations for the July 30 referendum.

It's good to remember that the oil-rich nation is facing a humanitarian crisis.

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