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Venezuelans rebuke government plan for new constitution in nonbinding vote

Cody Weddle and Jim Wyss, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

CARACAS, Venezuela --Venezuelans around the world turned out in large numbers Sunday to reject President Nicolas Maduro's plan to rewrite the constitution as the South American nation staggers under protests and violence.

Even as the opposition hailed the big turnout for the nonbinding referendum, the socialist administration seemed no closer to dropping its plans to convene a National Constituent Assembly that critics fear will be one more step toward totalitarian rule.

Voting was extended across parts of the country Sunday as the opposition said it had been overwhelmed by the crowds, and officials said they believed several million people had cast a ballot to reject the government's plans.

"If I was one Nicolas Maduro's advisers, I would tell him to look at what's happening all over the country (and) stop trying to impose this constituent on the people," said Henrique Capriles, the opposition governor of Miranda state. "What Maduro should do in the next hours is cancel the fraudulent constituent."

So far, that doesn't appear to be in the cards. On Sunday, Maduro downplayed the vote, saying the opposition was "demoralized." And election authorities reminded the country that the results were not legally binding.

Facing more than 100 days of protests in which more than 90 people died, thousands were injured and hundreds were detained, Maduro has said the National Constituent Assembly is the "only solution" to bring peace to the country.

 

But even as Maduro was preaching pace, there were new reports of intimidation and bloodshed. The MUD coalition of opposition parties said they had received reports of at least 236 "irregularities" during the referendum. In one of the most serious incidents, pro-government gunmen allegedly opened fire on voters in the Catia neighborhood of Caracas, leaving as many as two dead and four injured.

Even so, turnout was strong even in parts of the capital considered ruling-party strongholds.

In the municipality of Libertador, near downtown Caracas, voters had come out despite fears that they might face retaliation from pro-government groups.

"Yes I'm scared," said Yoviann Susrez, a student. "But if I live with fear, and don't take a risk, nothing will ever change here."

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