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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Venezuelan officials killed as voting starts

Protestors flooded the streets of the capital as voters headed to the polls

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, seen here during a military parade commemorating the country's Independence Day in Caracas, called the vote despite months of protests and international criticism (AP Photos/Ariana Cubillos)
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, seen here during a military parade commemorating the country's Independence Day in Caracas, called the vote despite months of protests and international criticism (AP Photos/Ariana Cubillos)

A candidate in Venezuela’s election for a powerful new assembly has been shot dead in his home, as troops fired weapons in the capital Caracas to clear the streets of protesters.

Today's vote was called by president Nicolas Maduro despite months of protests and international criticism.

Mr Maduro is gambling his four-year rule on a 545-member “Constituent Assembly”, empowered to dissolve the opposition-controlled congress and change laws as it reforms the nation’s constitution.

Jose Felix Pineda, 39, a candidate for Venezuela’s south-eastern town of Ciudad Bolivar, was killed by shots fired by assailants who broke into his home, prosecutors said.

The lawyer was the second candidate to be murdered, after the July 10 death of Jose Luis Rivas as he was campaigning in the northern city of Maracay.

In the west of Caracas, national guard troops sent to put down disruption to the election used armoured vehicles and fired shots to disperse protesters.

The opposition boycotted the vote, calling it a bid by Mr Maduro for a dictatorship with the backing of the military.

As a result, all 5,500 candidates for the 545 seats in the constituent assembly were his supporters.

More than 400 people have been killed in four months of protests against the assembly.

Mr Maduro cast his ballot in a west Caracas polling station.

“I’m the first voter in the country. I ask God for his blessings so the people can freely exercise their democratic right to vote,” he said, accompanied by his wife Cilia Flores, a candidate for the assembly.

Turnout will be key to determining the legitimacy of the election. But that will be hard to ascertain as most voters will be able to vote twice, as candidates are drawn from social and industrial sectors as well as geographically.

Surveys by Datanalisis, a pro-opposition polling company, said more than 70 per cent of Venezuelans opposed the assembly while 80 per cent rejected Mr Maduro’s leadership.

He decreed a ban on protests during and after the vote, threatening prison terms of up to 10 years.

The US, EU and Latin American powers including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico said the election would destroy Venezuelan democracy.

Several foreign airlines, including Air France, Delta, Avianca and Iberia had meanwhile suspended flights to the country over worries about security.

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