Spotlight: Venezuela to elect Constituent Assembly amid protests

Source: Xinhua| 2017-07-30 13:04:30|Editor: ZD
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CARACAS, July 29 (Xinhua) -- Anti-government protests continued here Saturday, trying to derail a national vote to be held one day later to elect a 545-member National Constituent Assembly (ANC) tasked to rewrite the constitution for Venezuela.

Opposition-led protests have lasted some four months to demand President Nicolas Maduro step down, causing at least 110 deaths. The three latest ones were confirmed to happen Friday in the capital Caracas and the states of Tachira and Merida.

On Friday, the opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), rejected the government's latest invitation for dialogue.

"We will not let up the pressure on false hopes," MUD spokesperson Freddy Guevara told a press conference. "The only way we are going to (hold) dialogue will be if they tie up and imprison us," he said.

Maduro said Saturday his government has been holding secret talks with the MUD in recent weeks.

"In the last six weeks, there have been direct conversations between envoys from the MUD and a presidential delegation led by Jorge Rodriguez (mayor of Caracas), Delcy Rodriguez (former foreign minister) and Elias Jaua (education minister)," said Maduro during a campaign speech.

The opposition has denied reports that the talks focused on a timeline to hold fresh elections, among other political issues.

"We were about to reach an agreement to issue a statement approved by all political parties of the MUD when he (an unnamed MUD leader)...called for a general strike," said Maduro.

A 48-hour general strike since Thursday further intensified protests over the past week. Chaos and violence including burning and vandalizing buildings have been reported in anti-government protests that have been taking place almost daily since April in the South American country.

Freddy Guevara, the MUD vice-president of the National Assembly, has urged supporters not to "lower the pressure, based on false illusions, for one moment."

Maduro has called the ANC the only way out of Venezuela's political and economic crisis while the MUD has rejected it as an unconstitutional power grab.

Maduro expressed confidence on Friday that the ANC election will see the opposition defeated.

"This Sunday July 30 the people are going to punish you at the polls," said the president.

Luis Gavazut, a social sciences researcher, said: "Evidently, the ANC is a space for political dialogue at a national level."

Gavazut also dismissed opposition allegations that Maduro's plan for the ANC to rewrite the constitution has led to more violence, saying violence was due to factors such as poverty and hunger.

The expert believes that through the ANC, Maduro would be able to discuss new strategies such as "amplifying and perfecting the Venezuelan economic system."

Jesus Silva, a constitutional expert, also said the fundamental ideas to be developed in this constitutional project had been revealed.

"They seek to deepen the values and principles of the Bolivarian model led by President Hugo Chavez (1999-2013)," Silva said.