Venezuelan protesters take to streets to defy Maduro

Venezuelan protesters take to streets to defy Maduro

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has called for a vote on Sunday that Trump and many other critics say will transform the South American government into dictatorship. More than 3,000 people have been injured in clashes and more than 4,500 arrested in street protests that have grown increasingly violent. It will create an assembly with the power to write a new constitution.

The US government ordered family members of employees at its embassy in Venezuela to leave on July 27, as seven people were killed during the strike, according to Reuters. The crisis has forced thousands of citizens to flee during in recent months.

Another lawmaker at the news conference, U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, said he hoped Maduro will "take a deep breath" and back off.

In announcing the United States sanctions, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said America was "standing by the Venezuelan people in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy".

The opposition in Venezuela had previously asked the government to call for a National Constituent Assembly to change the country's constitution and demanded elections. Senior administration officials say "all options are on the table", which means Trump could ban shipments of Venezuelan oil to the U.S. Or U.S. oil going to Venezuela.

"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.

USA sanctions could also embolden Maduro's base, igniting them to double down on their heavy-handed tactics against Venezuela's opposition protesters.

Barquisimeto Mayor Alfredo Ramos, a vocal opponent of Maduro and the vote to elect delegates to a constitutional assembly, wasarrested in his office Friday afternoon by officers of the SEBIN police intelligence agency.

Presidential elections are set to be held in 2018, but some opposition groups want Maduro to step down before then. "And that card is the National Constituent Assembly", he said.

Government officials and candidates for the Constituent Assembly wrapped up campaigning on Thursday with a rally in Caracas with Maduro.

Though the opposition won control of the National Assembly in 2015 elections, it is essentially void because pro-Maduro legislators stopped attending sessions.

"We continue to implement security measures to guarantee Venezuelans the extra security we are accustomed to", Lucena said in an interview.

The hardening political struggle has deepened fears that months of street violence could worsen, perhaps even tip into open civil conflict.

In addition to this electoral process, regional elections in Venezuela are also scheduled for December 10, of this year, to elect the governors and legislative councils of the country's 23 states.

The United Nations has voiced concern about the risk of further violence in Venezuela as a vote to begin rewriting the constitution looms.

The Democratic Unity coalition of opposition parties called on protesters to occupy several main streets on Sunday to obstruct the vote, despite the government's warning of harsh penalties.

The oil export-dependent economy will shrink 12% this year, after a contraction of 18% last year, according to the latest forecast from the International Monetary Fund.

Mr. Maduro has vowed to resolve the political and economic crisis through a revised constitution, but the opposition has refused to participate, arguing that it will only give the President more power.

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