Venezuelan opposition in final protest push ahead of Sunday's vote


Protests that could "affect" the controversial Constituent Assembly vote this weekend will be banned, the government of Venezuela announced on Thursday.

Violators will be "punished with imprisonment for 5 to 10 years", Reverol warned. The U.S. also joined with a dozen other regional governments in urging Maduro to suspend Sunday's election of a national assembly for rewriting the charter.

But he has not explained what should be changed from the current constitution, nor what specific reforms would put an end to Venezuela's political and economic crisis.

Washington has imposed successive rounds of sanctions on members of Maduro's administration and U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence on Friday promised "strong and swift economic actions" after Sunday's vote.

"We're a united people, a sovereign country. and we walk towards victory with our President Nicolás Maduro", tweeted Rodolfo Marco Torres, a government minister.

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The government banned protests from Friday to Tuesday but opposition figure Henrique Capriles called on followers to block streets again on Saturday and to hold protests along the country's main roads on Sunday.

But Maduro repeated "there was no going back" during a public ceremony where he said the process will be "a great space for dialogue" that will serve to build a "new productive economy".

"If they ever got sanctions from the US - that would be completely crippling", says Diego Ferro, co-investment officer at Greylock Capital, a USA firm that owns Venezuelan debt.

"The usual suspects came out to say Maduro had become insane".

For the opposition, who have vowed to boycott it, Sunday's vote represents an illegal move to try to strip the country's legislative body of its power.

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Some 70 per cent of Venezuelans oppose the Constituent Assembly, according to polling firm Datanalisis.

It has been badly received by the opposition which claimed it was another attempt by the executive to hold onto power.

President Donald Trump has said the USA will take "strong and swift economic actions" if the constituent assembly election proceeds.

Human Rights Watch, a USA -based nonprofit group, expects the ANC to use its "frighteningly wide and vaguely defined powers" to dissolve the opposition-controlled congress, lift parliamentary immunity and prosecute opposition legislators, sack the rebellious attorney general and, perhaps, suspend the presidential elections slated for December 2018. "We will respond with the TAKING OF VENEZUELA".

The opposition-led National Assembly, meanwhile, has challenged the government by appointing 33 supreme court judges to rival ones loyal to Maduro.

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There has been widespread worldwide condemnation of Maduro's Constituent Assembly plan.

Venezuela's state prosecutor's office said a 49-year-old man was killed during a protest in Carabobo state and a 16-year old died in the middle class area of El Paraiso in Caracas on Thursday.

The Constituent Assembly will comprise 545 elected representatives, 364 of whom will come from municipal circumscriptions (one from each, except state capitals which will get two, and Caracas, which will get seven).

Fears of open civil conflict have prompted an exodus of thousands of Venezuelans into neighbouring Colombia.

The sanctions freeze any assets the individuals have in the United States and bar Americans from doing business with them.

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With surveys showing that nearly 70 percent of Venezuelans oppose the assembly, the government wants to avoid embarrassingly low turnout in a ballot being boycotted by the opposition. Inflation is expected to jump 720 percent and unemployment to reach 28 percent this year, according to a report by the International Monetary Fund.