Polling stations close after violence mars Venezuela elections

Source: Xinhua| 2017-07-31 13:03:31|Editor: ZD
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CARACAS, July 30 (Xinhua) -- Polling stations closed across Venezuela at 7 p.m. (2300 GMT) on Sunday after millions turned out to elect a National Constituent Assembly (ANC), which is tasked to rewrite the constitution for the South American country.

Voting time was extended for an hour before Sandra Oblitas, vice president of the National Electoral Council, ordered the move, saying that the turnout meant not everyone would have time to vote.

The AFP quoted polling firm Datanalisis as saying that more than 70 percent of Venezuelans opposed the idea of the new assembly.

Tensions bubbled over into violence on Sunday as police cracked down on violent protesters against the election, causing at least 10 deaths across the country, according to Venezuela's chief prosecutor's office.

Foreign Affairs Minister Samuel Moncada, however, commented that the strong participation of Venezuelans on Sunday in the election of the ANC is a "vote for peace."

The Venezuelan minister highlighted the importance of seeing the people out voting and rejected the country's critics.

"Opponents, some governments and even the CIA do not recognize this power ... because they have a plan to control Venezuela. We do not need them or the vote of opponents," said Moncada, calling the election a "declaration of sovereignty."

Other officials were similarly triumphant, including the mayor of Caracas and leader of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, Jorge Rodriguez.

"The world must respect the result today. It is a song of peace, of love for the country," said Rodriguez at a press conference, adding that the day, which saw 13 hours of voting, had allowed Venezuelans to show they could deal with their internal affairs.

He praised the "massive" turnout for the election, despite "provocations" by the opposition.

Opposition-led protests have lasted some four months to demand President Nicolas Maduro step down, causing at least 120 deaths.

In the newest wave of bloodshed on Sunday, two teenagers, aged 17 and 13, were among the dead. One was killed in the municipality of Cardenas in the western state of Tachira, when armed groups allegedly fired at the protesters.

Ricardo Campos, 30, a youth opposition leader for the conservative Democratic Action party, died in the northeast state of Sucre. He reportedly died of a gunshot near his home.

Hundreds of Venezuelans also turned out to protest in neighboring Colombia on Sunday, many in Bogota, outside the residence of the Venezuelan ambassador.

"We are here to demand our ambassador stop being a coward ... he must quit as at least 80 percent of our country, according to serious polls, is against the election that seeks to ... pass the ANC which is a fraud and a way to repress our country even more," said Oscar Aponte, one of the protesters.

Similar demonstrations were seen in the cities of Medellin, Cali, Bucaramanga and Cucuta, all with large Venezuelan communities.

The governments of Argentina, Britain, Colombia, Mexico, Panama and the United States, among others, have said they would not recognize the results of the election.

The U.S. government warned of "strong and swift actions" against Venezuelan officials, including the 545 participants in the constitutional assembly.

Despite wide criticism, Venezuelan authorities were defiant.

The President of Venezuela's Constituent Commission, Elias Jaua, said that the ANC did not need the recognition of "any government."

Jaua told the press Sunday that "the ANC is a constitutional instrument, no government of the world has the right to recognize or not the will of the Venezuelan people."

He took particular aim at the United States and Colombia, saying that "Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia, and Donald Trump, the North American leader, must respect it, as this people has its own soul and conscience."

"Tomorrow (Monday), we will start the ANC and, through it, the path to recovering the guarantees of peace and dialogue among all Venezuelans ...hopefully the opposition understands this," he added.