x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 October 2017

At least one shot dead in Venezuela voting queue

Venezuelans are voting in an unofficial 'freedom' referendum

Supporters of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro line up to cast their ballots during a test in preparation for the election of members of a constitutional assembly in Caracas
Supporters of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro line up to cast their ballots during a test in preparation for the election of members of a constitutional assembly in Caracas

A woman has been shot dead while waiting to vote in an unofficial, opposition-organised referendum in Venezuela.

Men on motorbikes killed her and wounded three others in the capital city of Caracas.

Reuters reports that two people died and video from the scene shows people rushing away from the gunshots.

Many fled to a church, reports the BBC.

Venezuelans across the world are voting in an unofficial referendum on government plans for a new assembly that could change the constitution.

President Nicolas Maduro has described the referendum as "meaningless".

The vote follows a deepening economic crisis and months of political violence between the government and the opposition. Nearly 100 people have died during these face-offs.

Opposition spokesman Carlos Ocariz said of the shooting: "We lament this very much, with great pain. He went on to add "but it is just one of 2,030 voting centres."

Improvised polling stations have been set up in more than 100 countries.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said Venezuelans voting in the unofficial referendum would be voting for the country's freedom, while critics of the new assembly say it could herald dictatorship.

Voters are also able to give their opinion on whether they want fresh elections before Mr Maduro's term ends in 2018 and if they want the armed forces to defend the current constitution.

"They have convened an internal consultation with the opposition parties, with their own mechanisms, without electoral rulebooks, without prior verification, without further verification. As if they are autonomous and decide on their own," said Mr Maduro.

The president has called an official vote on July 30 to approve the constituent assembly.

He has said that a new constitution would "neutralise" the opposition and defeat "coup-plotters". He has said this will bring peace in Venezuela.

His opponents have argued that setting up a new constituent assembly and rewriting the constitution would almost certainly delay this year's regional elections and next year's presidential election.

They also fear that it would further weaken the National Assembly, Venezuela's opposition-controlled legislative body.

The vote comes ten days after government supporters stormed the Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly, injuring several lawmakers and journalists.

Venezuela is in a deep economic crisis and citizens face severe shortages of basic supplies such as medicine and food. The falling price of oil, which accounts for about 95 per cent of export revenues, has made the situation worse.