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Tension continues to mount in Venezuela as the country prepares for a controversial vote that could rewrite its constitution.
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CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan election officials said 8 million people voted Sunday to create a constitutional assembly endowing President Nicolás Maduro with virtually unlimited powers, a vote total decried by domestic and foreign critics as a sham.

 

Venezuela’s National Electoral Council’s estimated turnout Sunday was more than double that of political opponents and independent experts.

Opposition leaders also said 12 people were killed in violence in the face of a massive presence of troops around the country on Sunday. The government confirmed nine deaths. 

Maduro, who faces a worsening economic crisis despite Venezuela’s enormous oil reserves, seeks to establish a friendly assembly that would bypass the opposition-controlled Congress to rewrite the country’s 1999 constitution. Opponents accuse him of trying to create a single-party, authoritarian system like that in Cuba. 

Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena announced just before midnight Sunday that turnout was 41.53%, or 8,089,320 people.

The count was met with mockery and anger from members of the opposition, who said they believed between 2 million and 3 million people voted.

Julio Borges, president of the opposition-led National Assembly, said only 7% of the electorate had voted — a silent protest of Maduro’s power grab, which would slam the brakes on democracy.

The opposition had urged voters to boycott the vote, but millions of Venezuelans who hold government jobs…