Over 7 million vote in anti-Maduro referendum: Venezuela opposition
Venezuela’s opposition says more than seven million people have voted in an unofficial referendum that was held to increase pressure on the government of embattled President Nicolas Maduro.
Opposition leaders hailed the results of the symbolic polls held on Sunday against a plan by Maduro to rewrite the constitution in an effort to end months-long political tensions in the South American state.
According to the president of the Central University of Venezuela, Cecilia Garcia Arocha, 6,492,381 cast their vote in the country and 693,789 voted abroad in the symbolic plebiscite that was boycotted by government supporters.
In an incident on Sunday, gunmen on motorcycles started shooting towards people at an opposition polling site in a church in western Caracas. The gunmen killed a 61-year old woman and wounded four people.
The opposition mayor of the Caracas region of Sucre, Carlos Ocariz, accused pro-government paramilitary groups of being behind the attack.
However, in comments on state TV following the closure of the vote, Maduro blamed the opposition for violence in the country, without commenting on the shooting incident.
“I’m calling on the opposition to return to peace, to respect for the constitution, to sit and talk,” Maduro said. “Let’s start a new round of talks, of dialogue for peace.”
The president dismissed Sunday’s vote as unconstitutional and renewed support for an upcoming July 30 vote to create a legislative assembly that would have the power to rewrite Venezuela’s 1999 constitution and dissolve state institutions.
The president signed an executive order back in May to form the assembly.
Maduro insists that a new constitution is needed “to restore peace,” stop the opposition from carrying out a “coup d’etat,” and rid the country of social and economic woes.
Opposition leaders, however, say writing a new constitution would give the president an excuse to put off regional elections scheduled for this year and a presidential election slated for 2018.
The South American nation of 30 million, has recently been the scene of intense protests, which broke out after the Supreme Court stripped the opposition-controlled parliament of its powers in April.
The move unleashed long-simmering anger and sparked the fiercest protests against Maduro in three years. While that decision was later revoked, protests have only gained momentum.
The embattled president is also blamed for Venezuela’s economic woes. People have been facing acute shortages of foodstuffs and medicine in recent months and looting has been repeatedly happening in the country.
Maduro, however, blames the crisis on foreign powers seeking to wage an economic war against his government.