Deadly protests mar Venezuela ballot as voters snub Maduro assembly

CARACAS/SAN CRISTOBAL, Venezuela, (Reuters) – Deadly protests rocked Venezuela on Sunday as voters broadly boycotted an election for a constitutional super-body that unpopular leftist President Nicolas Maduro vowed would begin a “new era of combat” in the crisis-stricken nation.

Anti-Maduro activists wearing hoods or masks erected barricades on roads, and scuffles broke out with security forces who moved in quickly to disperse demonstrators who denounced the election as a naked power grab by the president.

Authorities said seven people were killed in the confrontations. The opposition said the true death toll was around 12, which would make Sunday one of the deadliest days since massive and sustained protests started in early April.

Maduro, widely disliked for overseeing an unraveling of Venezuela’s economy, has promised the assembly will bring peace by way of a new constitution after four months of opposition protests in which about 120 people have been killed.

But opposition parties sat out the election, saying it was rigged to increase Maduro’s powers, a view shared by governments including those of Colombia, Argentina and the United States.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley tweeted “Maduro’s sham election is another step toward dictatorship. We won’t accept an illegit govt.”

Caracas was largely shut down with deserted streets and polling stations were mostly empty, dealing a blow to the legitimacy of the vote. The government nonetheless extended voting by an hour to 7 p.m. EST (2300 GMT), citing what it described as long lines at voting centers.

Critics say the assembly will allow Maduro to dissolve the opposition-run Congress, delay future elections and rewrite electoral rules to prevent the socialists from being voted out of power in the once-thriving OPEC nation.

In what could be the spread of more aggressive tactics, a bomb exploded in Caracas and injured seven police officers.

The opposition has vowed to redouble its resistance and…

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