Venezuela leader Nicolas Maduro takes “step toward dictatorship” with election for constitutional assembly US says

Venezuela’s National Electoral Council said early Sunday that more than 8 million people had voted to grant President Nicolas Maduro’s ruling socialist party virtually unlimited powers with a new constitutional assembly — a turnout more than double the estimates of both the government’s political opponents and independent experts.

The U.S. blasted the vote as a “step toward dictatorship,” and the Trump administration vowed a “strong and swift” response.

Electoral Council president Tibisay Lucena announced just before midnight that turnout in Sunday’s vote was 41.53 percent, or 8,089,320 people.

That count was met with mockery and anger from members of the opposition, who said they believed between 2 million and 3 million people voted. One well-respected independent analysis said 3.6 million appeared to have voted.

The electoral council’s vote counts in the past have traditionally been seen as reliable and generally accurate, but Sunday’s announcement appeared certain to escalate the polarization and political conflict paralyzing the country.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has provoked international criticism and enraged his political opponents by pushing for the special assembly to rewrite the troubled South American nation’s constitution.

Sunday’s election of delegates to the assembly comes after nearly four months of political upheaval that have resulted in more than 100 deaths and left thousands injured and detained.

The U.S. State Department officially condemned the Venezuelan government for holding the vote, calling it a step toward authoritarian rule. In a statement released Sunday night, the State Department said the new body seemed designed to “undermine the Venezuelan people’s right to self-determination.”

The U.S. had already joined Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Panama…

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