Maduro eyes ‘big victory’ in protest-hit Venezuela vote

Caracas (AFP) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro predicted a “big victory” in a contentious vote Sunday for a new law-making body that is dogged by deadly protests and opposition claims he’s moving to outright dictatorship.

Authorities said late Saturday that virtually all was ready for the election of the 545-member Constituent Council that will have power to dissolve the legislature as it takes on the task of rewriting the constitution.

However, electoral council chief Tibisay Lucena acknowledged that “we have had attacks and (voting) machines burned” in parts of the country, confirming images circulating on Twitter.

International alarm has risen over the deepening crisis in the impoverished yet oil-rich South American nation of 30 million people.

Several foreign airlines have suspended flights to the country, and families of US diplomats there have been ordered to leave.

Maduro, who this week decreed a ban on anti-government demonstrations ahead of the vote, called the new body a “triumph.”

“This is the most important election held in Venezuela’s political system,” he said in a broadcast speech.

Four months of protests against Maduro’s rule, and more recently the Constituent Assembly plan, have killed 113 people.

The opposition has urged defiance of the protest ban by calling for demonstrations to intensify. It says Maduro, backed by a loyal military, is moving toward autocracy in a bid to cling to power.

It has appealed for a boycott of the election, which surveys suggest is rejected by more than 70 percent of Venezuelans.

– US sanctions –

The US, the EU and Latin American powers — including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico — have come out against the vote, saying it would destroy Venezuelan democracy.

The United States has already leveled sanctions at 13 current and former Venezuelan officials, and said further action could be “on the table.”

But Maduro has insisted that the “card that will win this game” is the election of the new assembly.

With the…

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