Voting starts in controversial Venezuela election

Referendum will only worsen crisis, say Venezuelan bishops

Referendum will only worsen crisis, say Venezuelan bishops

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro pushed on Saturday with a controversial weekend vote for an assembly to rewrite the constitution, despite fierce political opposition, global condemnation and deadly street demonstrations.

Maduro has previously said that his plan for a national assembly would "modify" the "rotten National Assembly that's now there", and the elected constituents would represent all sectors of Venezuelan society.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is known to level frequent barbs at his Colombian counterpart, casting him as a slave to imperial foreign rule.

Accompanied by state media and close advisors, Maduro voted at 6.05am local time - far earlier and less publicly than in previous elections. A 61-year-old nurse was fatally shot by men accused of being pro-government paramilitaries during a protest at a church a few hundred feet from the school where Maduro voted. Hopefully the world will respectfully extend its arms towards our country'.

The opposition has called for a boycott and mass demonstrations against the election, which it calls a bid by Maduro to install a dictatorship with the backing of the military.

As Maduro effectively steers his country toward one-party rule, he sets it on a collision course with the United States, which buys almost half of Venezuela's oil.

He is attempting to bolster his power by creating a new assembly which will tear up the constitution and effectively create a one-party state. "Best to be prepared", said one 34-year-old Caracas resident who gave his name as Maximiliano.

Firefighters rescue woman entangled by boa constrictor
The unnamed woman was transported to the hospital, but her injuries from the snake were non-life-threatening. Card said a pocket knife was used to kill the snake, which the woman told authorities was 5ᄑ feet long.

Maduro said the new legislature - called the Constituent Assembly - "will be the space, the power of powers, the super power that will, so to speak, recover the national spirit, find reconciliation, justice, find the truth". "All the criminals will go to prison for the crimes they've committed". "I ask God for his blessings so the people can freely exercise their democratic right to vote", he said alongside his wife, who is a candidate for the constituent assembly.

Donald Trump has imposed successive rounds of sanctions on high-ranking members of Maduro's administration, with the support of countries including Mexico, Colombia and Panama.

All of this takes place against the backdrop of severe economic conditions: inflation is in triple figures, the economy has contracted by 35% in four years, and food shortages have led to widespread hunger and emigration.

Congress has already been severely weakened by the Maduro-loyalist electoral commission and supreme court.

Venezuela has seen waves of protests break out in recent months, particularly following a decree in March which attempted to strip parliament (controlled by the opposition party) of many powers.

Unlike during the unofficial referendum against the assembly earlier this month, when over seven million Venezuelans rejected Maduro's assembly, entire districts and many of Caracas' main thoroughfares were deserted on Sunday.

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