Venezuelans overwhelmingly reject Maduro's constitutional efforts

Venezuelans overwhelmingly reject Maduro's constitutional efforts

White House press secretary Sean Spicer says the US congratulates the Venezuelan people "for the huge turnout in the referendum" sponsored by the opposition to reject President Nicolas Maduro's planned constitutional revamp.

The oil-rich nation was once one of Latin America's most prosperous, but it has been plunged into political and economic turmoil as petroleum prices plummet, nationalized farms and factories halt production and corruption runs rampant.

David Smilde, a Tulane University expert on Venezuela, said Sunday's results would likely rally the worldwide community even more strongly against the July 30 vote Maduro has called to elect members of the assembly that will retool Venezuela's 1999 constitution. "Let's start a new round of talks, of dialogue for peace".

The opposition however has blamed a "paramilitary" gang for the shooting, which prosecutors said they would investigate.

The head of the OAS, Luis Almagro, in a video called on Venezuelans to take part in Sunday's vote "to prevent the definitive collapse of the country's institutions".

Colombia's former President Andres Pastrana, left, embraces Lilian Tintori, left after a news conference of global observers of a symbolic referendum in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, July 16, 2017.

Maduro held his own rehearsal vote for the constituent assembly on Sunday, which may have dented turn out for the opposition's referendum as more than two million state workers were encouraged to attend.

The lines outside the Watsco Center at the University of Miami stretched as far as the eye could see as Venezuelans turned out in full force all across South Florida to reject the government's controversial plan to rewrite the constitution.

Opposition leaders held an unofficial referendum in which 7million people voted against the proposed rewrite.




"I thought it was going to be more", said Mariela Arana, a 56-year-old school counselor.

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.

"Overall this vote, I think, makes it hard for the government to just proceed as planned", Smilde said.

The chief prosecutor's office said Xiomara Soledad Scott, a nurse, had been killed and four others wounded.

Separately, journalist Luis Olavarrieta was kidnapped, robbed and beaten by what he said was a a group of government supporters, but managed to escape.

Mogherini suggested that "a large part of the population clearly does not seem to support the Constituent Assembly" and that there is a need of exploring "urgent peaceful solutions". More than 100 have died in clashes and protests since April. The court is controlled by loyalists of Maduro's ruling socialist party.

Chavez and Maduro spent years building a cozy relationship with military leaders, rewarding them with money and powerful government jobs.

Opponents of Venezuela's government blame it for turning one of the region's most prosperous countries into an economic basket case with a shrinking economy, soaring inflation and widespread shortages.

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