Nicolas Maduro : An insight into the Venezuela constitutional row

5 Killed in Violence during Venezuelan Opposition's General Strike against Maduro Regime

Small numbers of protesters on Friday defied a ban on demonstrations in Venezuela, ahead of a controversial weekend election called by President Nicolas Maduro that has already provoked deadly violence and global criticism.

The government announced security measures that include banning protests through Tuesday. It is also calling for more protests over the weekend to disrupt the vote, even as the government has said it will crack down on what it considers to be illegal demonstrations. The neighboring country said it would give 150,000 Venezuelans who had overstayed permission to visit another three months before they had to leave. "Let's not be victims of fear". Maduro was campaigning for a Sunday election that is meant to create the legislative body that he will be entrusting with rewriting the constitution.

That's unlikely, however, as the opposition has said it won't negotiate unless the constituent assembly is canceled. The delegates - a lot of them expected to be ruling-party loyalists - would have the power to rewrite the 1999 constitution, dissolve other branches of government, and call and cancel future elections.

On Wednesday, the U.S. imposed sanctions on 13 top officials of Venezuela's government for "undermining democracy", a move slammed by Maduro as "insolent" and "imperialist", just as the Venezuelan opposition initiated its general strike, demanding Maduro halt the July 30 election for a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution.

Meanwhile, Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos says his country will not recognise the result of Sunday's vote.

Earlier this week the United States sanctioned 13 current or former senior officials in Venezuela, who are suspected of human rights abuses, suppressing democracy and corruption.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, one of Maduro's most vocal opponents, said in a meeting with two other US legislators that he expects further sanctions if the assembly vote proceeds. Opponents see the Constituent Assembly as a step toward dictatorship by the party of President Nicolas Maduro.

"What would Chavez do July 30th?" he asked.

The constitution would replace the one crafted by Chavez in 1999 in a previous constituent assembly, considered one of his legacies.

"No!" the crowd shouted back.

Chavez installed the nation's socialist government and died in office in 2013.

Streets in some parts of Caracas and nearby towns were near-empty during the strike as some Venezuelans stayed home from work.

Over 100 people have died in anti-government unrest convulsing Venezuela since April, when the opposition launched protests demanding conventional elections to end almost two decades of socialist rule.

Deaths in the anti-government demonstrations and upheaval climbed to at least 113 on Friday.

Most of those killed in anti-government protests that began in early April have been young men killed by gunfire.

The July 30 referendum is "unconstitutional as well as unnecessary, inconvenient and damaging to the Venezuelan people", members of the presiding council of the bishops' conference said in a statement released July 27.

Venezuela's currency reserves have dwindled to under US$10 billion (RM42.7 billion) as the government keeps up debt repayments at the expense of imports to stave off a crippling default.

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