Venezuela bans protests against new Assembly vote

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Venezuela's government today sought to quash deadly protests against a controversial weekend election, issuing a ban that sharply intensifies a showdown over President Nicolas Maduro's widely panned plan to rewrite the constitution. He has warned the Organization of American States not to intervene in Venezuela, saying that would surely bring on civil war.

A 30-year-old man was killed on Wednesday at a protest in Ejida, in the western state of Merida.

Venezuelan opposition leaders have called a two-day general strike beginning Wednesday to protest Maduro's plans to rewrite the country's constitution. An average of 78 people a day died violently a year ago in this country of 31.5 million, according the non-governmental Venezuelan Violence Observatory.

Last week, Trump said Washington "will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles".

There are 545 seats up for grabs and those elected would essentially replace the current National Assembly - which is controlled by opponents of President Nicolás Maduro's government.

U.S. President Donald Trump spared Venezuela for now from broader sanctions against its vital oil industry, although such actions were still under consideration.

His threat was echoed by other US officials who said such penalties could be applied to any "bad actors" in Maduro's government who are involved in corruption, human rights abuses or efforts to undermine democracy.

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On July 16th it claimed that seven million people voted in a symbolic referendum it called to reject the president's plans for the constitutional assembly.

Although both decisions were overturned within days, opposition leaders continue to lead the protests aimed at toppling President Nicolas Maduro, removing the members of the Supreme Court, restoration of local and regional elections, and release of political prisoners.

Maduro called the USA punishment "illegal, insolent and unprecedented".

"The elections are on Sunday, and we really don't know what will happen", Maria de los Angeles Pichardo, who left with her husband and son, told AFP news agency.

Anti-government protests have become an nearly daily occurrence since the loyalist Supreme Court unsuccessfully tried to strip the country's opposition-led legislature, the National Assembly, of its power in late March.

Also on the list are Venezuelan Interior Minister Nestor Reverol, national police director Carlos Alfredo Perez Ampueda and the vice president for finance of Venezuelan state oil giant PDVSA, Simon Zerpa.

A recent study by a group of Venezuelan universities showed that 93 per cent of respondents said they did not have enough income to buy the food they needed.

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"It is exclusively up to the Bolivarian people and government to overcome their difficulties without foreign intervention in their internal affairs", Machado Ventura said at an event in the northwestern city of Pinar del Rio.

Maduro accuses the U.S. of fomenting the unrest against him and his government, with the help of the conservative opposition.

He warned that anybody elected to the Constituent Assembly could also face United States sanctions.

"No one wants to keep living under Maduro's regime", tweeted Richard Blanco, a National Assembly member representing Caracas.

The oil export-dependent economy will shrink 12 percent this year, after a contraction of 18% last year, the International Monetary Fund said.

Venezuela's currency reserves have dwindled to under Dollars 10 billion as the government keeps up debt repayments at the expense of imports to stave off a crippling default. Opposition leaders maintained he was hit by a canister of tear gas fired by National Guard troops standing above the bridge where he was found dead. It has planned another major demonstration in Caracas on Friday.

Thousands of Venezuelans loaded with heavy bags have crossed the border into Colombia this week, fleeing the unrest.

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