CARACAS – Venezuela’s election authorities extended on Sunday by one hour voting to select the country’s constituent assembly members on a day when significant violence – including a number of deaths – has occurred nationwide.
National Electoral Council (CNE) chief Sandra Oblitas informed reporters of the decision a few minutes before 6:00 pm in Caracas, the previously scheduled time the polls were to have closed.
The MUD coalition said Sunday afternoon that at least 14 people have died on Sunday in the nationwide protests against the constituent assembly, a figure at odds with the eight deaths reported by the Attorney General’s Office.
MUD also said that just 9 percent of Venezuela’s 19.5 million eligible voters had gone to the polls on Sunday as of 3:00 pm.
Meanwhile, two-time presidential candidate and governor of Miranda state, Henrique Capriles, a key opposition leader, said that some 400 people had been injured in violence in Tachira state on Sunday.
The non-governmental organization Foro Penal Venezolano said on Twitter that 64 people had been arrested nationwide so far on Sunday, with 30 of those arrests coming in the northwest state of Zulia, while there were five each in the states of Merida and Monagas, six in Aragua, and three each in the city of Caracas and in Carabobo and Anzoategui states.
Protesters burned a traffic police station in Caracas. Images posted on Twitter showed the building – which also houses the municipal police of the Chacao district and other official offices – on fire.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Twitter that the Venezuelan election is “another step toward dictatorship” and rejected what she called the “illegitimate” Maduro government.
“Maduro’s sham election is another step toward dictatorship. We won’t accept an illegit govt. The Venezuelan ppl & democracy will prevail,” Haley tweeted.
“U.S. will continue to have the backs of the #Venezuelan people as they fight to save their once prosperous democracy,” the envoy to the UN had tweeted last Wednesday.
Earlier in the day of voting and violence, a 43-year-old man was shot in the head at a demonstration in the western Venezuelan state of Lara, two teenage boys were killed at demonstrations and a Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) officer died when he, too, was shot in the head at a protest in the western state of Tachira, raising to eight the official number of fatalities on the day when Venezuelans are going to the polls to select members of the constituent assembly to be tasked with drafting a new national charter.
The GNB officer was killed during a demonstration at the Jauregui Military School in the town of La Grita, authorities said.
A 17-year-old boy was killed in the town of Tucape and a 13-year-old died in Capacho Viejo, but no further details were available about their deaths, or that of the 43-year-old man who died in Lara.
The four deaths – following on the heels of four others on Sunday – raise to 115 the number of people who have died in the wave of largely anti-government protests that have been paralyzing the
country since early April.
Venezuelans headed to the polls on Sunday to vote for the National Constituent Assembly (ANC), a body that President Nicolas Maduro created to rewrite the nation’s constitution.
The opposition has refused to recognize the vote, which comes after months of violent protests in Caracas and other cities against the government and its plan to rewrite the constitution to give Maduro more power.
Seven National Police officers were injured when two of their motorcycles, along with two civilian motorcycles, blew up on Altamira Square near an anti-government protest in the capital.
The blast occurred when a column of motorcycle cops was passing the site, causing commotion among hundreds of people who were gathered nearby to protest the constituent assembly election.
Protesters clashed with the security forces in different sections of the capital starting in the early morning hours.
Demonstrators fought with police in two areas in El Paraiso, a district on the west side of Caracas, and an EFE reporter who tried to enter the area was prevented from doing so by GNB troops who had sealed off access to the zone.
Clashes started Saturday night and continued into Sunday in different states, including Tachira, Merida, Lara and Aragua.
The opposition MUD coalition called on Caracas residents to participate in a mass protest Sunday to express their rejection of the constituent assembly.
Maduro contends that the assembly is necessary to restore order in oil-rich Venezuela, which has been racked by near-daily protests and a deep economic crisis, but the president’s opponents say it is merely a cynical ploy to buy time until elections scheduled for October 2018.
The opposition tried last year to oust Maduro via a recall referendum drive and accuses the president of illegally blocking that drive.