Nicolas Maduro has won another six-year term as Venezuela’s president, in a vote marred by an opposition boycott and claims of vote-rigging.
Just 46% of the electorate turned out to vote amid food shortages stemming from a severe economic crisis.
The main opposition candidate, Henri Falcón, rejected the result soon after the polls closed.
He said: “We do not recognize this electoral process as valid… we have to have new elections in Venezuela.”
With more than 90% of the votes counted, Nicolas Maduro, 55, had 67.7% – 5.8 million votes – National Electoral Council chief Tibisay Lucena announced. Henri Falcón won 21.2% – 1.8 million votes – she said.
Nicolas Maduro told cheering supporters outside his presidential palace in Caracas, as fireworks went off and confetti was fired in the air: “They underestimated me.”
Henri Falcón has alleged that the vote was rigged in Nicolas Maduro’s favor, by abuse of the scanning of state-issued benefits cards used for accessing food.
According to government officials, the polls were “free and fair” but most of the opposition joined a boycott against the poll.
The Trump administration said it would not recognize the result. Tweeting ahead of the vote, the US mission to the UN called the process an “insult to democracy”.
Venezuela’s presidential elections were supposed to be held in December 2018, but the National Constituent Assembly, made up exclusively of Nicolas Maduro’s supporters, brought them forward.
The opposition Democratic Unity coalition said the elections were moved to take advantage of divisions within the coalition. Its two biggest candidates were also barred from running, and others have fled the country.
There were a handful of minor candidates but only Henri Falcón, a governor under the late President Hugo Chávez, was seen as a viable alternative to Nicolas Maduro. Henri Falcon came from the same socialist party as President Maduro, but left in 2010 to join the opposition.
Henri Falcón, who ran despite the boycott, has said he believes the majority of Venezuelans want to remove Nicolas Maduro from office.
The rest of the opposition, however, has frowned on his breaking ranks – with some even branding him a traitor.
Nicolas Maduro said the presidential poll would go ahead “with or without the opposition”.
Meanwhile, the former speaker of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, said the decision to call an early vote was in retaliation against recent EU sanctions against senior government officials.
Henry Ramos Allup accused the government of usurping the people’s legitimate power with the creation of the Constituent Assembly which effectively bypassed the National Assembly.
The election for the Constituent Assembly was boycotted by the opposition.
The country has for several years struggled with shortages of basic items, including food staples and medication.
President Maduro says foreign nations, and especially the US and Spain, are leading a campaign to bring down Venezuela’s socialist government.
The opposition blames corruption and the policies of the Socialist Party, which has been in power since 1999, for rampant violence and the collapse of the economy.
Nicolas Maduro was elected in April 2013 to succeed his mentor, the late Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer.
The president has urged Venezuela’s National Electoral Council to “fix the earliest possible date” to hold the poll.
Nicolas Maduro told his supporters in Caracas: “Let’s get over with this, win the president poll and put an end to the imperialist threat.
“It it was for me, the election would be held next Sunday.”
Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro described her impeachment as “a right-wing coup”.
On December 23, the head of Venezuela’s powerful Constituent Assembly, Delcy Rodriguez, said that “diplomatic relations with Brazil will not be restored until the government reinstates the constitutional order it has effectively broken”.
The Brazilian government said the move showed “once again the authoritarian nature of President Maduro’s administration”.
Brazil and Canada have both become outspoken critics of President Maduro.
They accuse Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government of harassing the opposition and violating human rights.
Canada imposed sanctions on senior Venezuelan officials a few months ago.
Brazil and Canada were among many countries critical of President Maduro’s decision to convene a Constituent Assembly, which effectively replaced the opposition-controlled National Assembly.
The announcement prompted mass street protests, which killed more than 120 people in four months.
Venezuela’s opposition boycotted the poll in July and also held an unofficial referendum in which they said more than seven million Venezuelans had voted against the constituent assembly.
Nicolas Maduro’s six-year term ends in 2019. He is due to run for re-election in 2018.
Canada has expelled Venezuela’s ambassador to Ottawa, Wilmer Barrientos Fernández, and its charge d’affaires, Ángel Herrera.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said the move was in retaliation for the expulsion of its ambassador to Caracas over the weekend.
Venezuela had accused Canada of meddling in its internal affairs.
In response, Canada has criticized the government of President Nicolás Maduro over its human rights record.
More than 120 people were killed in Venezuela during months of anti-government protests earlier this year.
Image source misionvenezuela.org
Chrystia Freeland in a statement: “Canadians will not stand by as the Government of Venezuela robs its people of their fundamental democratic and human rights, and denies them access to basic humanitarian assistance.”
“We will continue to work with our partners in the region to apply pressure on the anti-democratic Maduro regime and restore the rights of the Venezuelan people.”
She said Wilmer Barrientos Fernández was already abroad and would not be allowed to return, while Ángel Herrera had been asked to leave.
Nicolas Maduro says his party won more than 300 of the 335 mayoral races being contested. The election board put turn out at 47%.
Venezuela has been mired in a worsening economic crisis characterized by shortages of basic goods and soaring inflation.
Presiedent Maduro said he was following the criteria set by the National Constituent Assembly in banning opposition parties from contesting next year’s election.
However, the assembly, which came into force in August and has the ability to rewrite the constitution, is made up exclusively of government loyalists. Opposition parties see it as a way for the president to cling to power.
The presidential vote had been scheduled for December 2018, but analysts say it could now be brought forward.
Venezuela has a population of more than 30 million people. It has some of the world’s largest oil deposits as well as huge quantities of coal and iron ore.
Despite its rich natural resources many Venezuelans live in poverty. This led President Nicolas Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, to style himself as a champion of the poor during his 14 years in office.
Now the country is starkly divided between supporters of President Nicolas Maduro and those who want an end to the Socialist Party’s 18 years in government.
Nicolas Maduro supporters say his party has lifted many people out of poverty, but critics say it has eroded Venezuela’s democratic institutions and mismanaged its economy.
Henrique Capriles, one of Venezuela’s opposition leading members, has announced he was leaving the coalition.
The former presidential candidate said the move was in protest at the decision by four newly elected opposition governors to pledge allegiance to the constituent assembly.
The Roundtable for Democracy (MUD) regards the constituent assembly as illegitimate.
The MUD governors were elected in regional polls this month in which the government won 18 out of 23 states.
The outcome of the October 15 elections, which the MUD said were fraudulent – and President Nicolas Maduro’s insistence that all new governors bow to the constituent assembly – has caused a rift among members of the opposition coalition.
The results were announced by the president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena. The CNE is dominated by government loyalists and has been accused of pro-government bias by the opposition.
The council came under fire earlier this year when the company providing the voting systems for July’s elections for the constituent assembly said the turn-out figures for that poll had been manipulated.
The CNE dismissed those allegations and used a different company for October 15 vote.
President Nicolas Maduro praised the results as proof that Venezuela has “the best electoral system in the world” and opposition leaders have called for street protests to be held on October 16.
Venezuela’s controversial constituent assembly has unanimously voted to put opposition leaders on trial for treason.
It said it would pursue those it accuses of supporting US economic sanctions against Venezuela.
The US approved the measures last week in response to what it called the “dictatorship” of President Nicolás Maduro.
Nicolás Maduro has accused the US of trying to cripple Venezuela’s economy amid an ongoing economic crisis.
On August 25, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to ban trade in Venezuelan debt or the sale of bonds from its state oil company.
The president’s reasons included “serious abuses of human rights” as well as the creation of the “illegitimate” constituent assembly, which the US accuses of usurping the democratically elected parliament.
The constituent assembly, which was convened by President Nicolás Maduro and is made up of government supporters, has been condemned by international leaders as unconstitutional.
On August 29, members of the assembly unanimously approved a decree calling for the investigation of “traitors” who supported the economic sanctions.
During the three-hour session, they took turns denouncing those who have been critical of the government in ever more colorful language.
Among those they attacked for allegedly being “engaged in the promotion of these immoral actions against the interests of the Venezuelan people” were not only members of opposition parties but also former supporters of the socialist government.
The sacked chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, who over the past months has become one of the most vocal critics of the government, came in for particular vitriol.
Constituent assembly member Iris Varela called Luisa Ortega “scum”. She also said that Luisa Ortega “crawled like a worm” and “sold her homeland for a few dollars she stole from this country”.
Luisa Ortega was fired by the constituent assembly in its first session earlier this month and replaced by a loyal government supporter, Tarek William Saab.
She has since traveled to a number of Latin American countries denouncing alleged government corruption in Venezuela.
The head of the opposition-controlled parliament, Julio Borges, was named as “one of the real enemies of Venezuela” for asking US bank Goldman Sachs to stop buying Venezuelan bonds.
Julio Borges reacted by saying that it was time the government stopped looking for others to blame for Venezuela’s economic and political crisis.
“The only one responsible is Maduro and it’s time he takes a look in the mirror and accepts he has ruined Venezuela,” Julio Borges told reporters.
On August 18, President Nicolas Maduro responded: “Welcome to politics, Gustavo Dudamel, but act with ethics, and don’t let yourself be deceived into attacking the architects of this beautiful movement of young boys and girls.”
The president referred to the young musicians which form part of Venezuela’s praised musical education program, El Sistema.
Nicolas Maduro also had a dig at the conductor for living abroad: “I don’t live abroad, true. None of us lives abroad, in Madrid or in Los Angeles.
“Where do we live? In Venezuela and we have to work for the Venezuelans.”
On August 21, three days after that public criticism, Venezuelan media reported that the US tour of Venezuela’s National Youth Orchestra under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel had been canceled by the president’s office.
On August 22, Gustavo Dudamel confirmed the reports on Twitter, saying: “Heart-breaking cancellation of our 4-city NYOV US tour.”
No reason for the cancelation of the tour has been given so far.
Some Venezuelan media speculated that the tour was canceled “in revenge” for Gustavo Dudamel speaking out against the government but others pointed out the high cost of transporting the young musicians to the US at a time when the Venezuelan government is running low on foreign currency reserves.
President Maduro is also an outspoken critic of “the imperialist US”, which he blames for many of Venezuela’s problems.
Venezuela’s new constituent assembly has overwhelmingly voted in favor of assuming the powers of the opposition-led parliament.
However, parliament has rejected the move. President Nicolas Maduro says the new assembly will end political unrest, but many say it is a slide towards dictatorship.
Meanwhile Colombia says Venezuela’s chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz has arrived in the capital Bogota.
Luisa Ortega Diaz said she feared for her life after being dismissed by the controversial assembly.
Once a staunch supporter of Nicolas Maduro, Luisa Ortega had become a strong critic of the president’s socialist government in recent months.
The former chief prosecutor’s whereabouts had been unknown following her dismissal on August 5.
On August 18, Luisa Ortega told a regional conference via videolink that she had evidence that President Maduro was embroiled in a corruption scandal involving the Brazilian construction company, Odebrecht.
Odebrecht has admitted paying bribes to win contracts in 12 countries, though no Venezuelans have been named.
Regional pressure on the Venezuelan government has continued, with Peru ordering the expulsion of the Venezuelan ambassador from Lima after Caracas sent an “unacceptable” response to regional condemnation of its new constituent assembly.
Ambassador Diego Molero has five days to leave Peru, officials say.
The move by Peru’s foreign ministry, announced in a statement on Twitter, follows the condemnation by 11 other major countries in the Americas of Venezuela’s controversial constituent assembly.
The new body has the ability to rewrite the constitution and could override the opposition-controlled parliament, the National Assembly.
In a separate development, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a fierce critic of Nicolas Maduro, has urged him to resign, saying he lost any credibility after the election of the new body.
Pablo Kuczynski told Reuters: “He’s a dictator and has carried out a coup through a fraudulent election to eliminate Congress.”
The Peruvian president also rejected an offer from Presidnet Maduro to meet face-to-face.
The Venezuelan opposition, which boycotted the election for the constituent assembly, accuses Nicolas Maduro of trying to cling on to power, which he denies.
Nicolas Maduro has repeatedly said that the new assembly would bring peace to Venezuela.
Violent demonstrations since April have left more than 120 people dead in Venezuela.
Venezuela’s government websites have been hacked in an operation targeting the “dictatorship” of President Nicolás Maduro.
Calling itself “The Binary Guardians”, the hacking group posted messages appearing to support the actions of a group of armed civilians who attacked a military base in the central city of Valencia on August 6.
Meanwhile, President Maduro’s supporters marched in the capital Caracas.
They called for an end to months of opposition protests and unrest.
The hacked sites included the Venezuelan government, the National Electoral Council and the Venezuelan navy.
A message on the main government site made reference to “Operation David”, which Venezuelan media had reported was the codename of the attack in Valencia.
“This dictatorship has its days numbered,” the message added.
The government said it had repelled the attack in Valencia, which was carried out by a group of armed civilians led by a military deserter.
A search was under way for 10 men who escaped with weapons after the attack, President Maduro said.
The assault in the north-western city of Valencia was carried out by 20 people, he said. Two were killed, one was injured and seven were arrested.
Earlier, a video posted on social media showed uniformed men saying they were rising against a “murderous tyranny”.
On state TV, Niclas Maduro congratulated the army for its “immediate reaction” in putting down the attack on August 6, saying they had earned his “admiration.”
The president called the incident a “terrorist attack” carried out by “mercenaries”, and said the security forces were actively searching for those who had escaped.
“We’ll get them,” Nicolas Maduro vowed.
The government said that those arrested included a first lieutenant who had deserted. It said the others were civilians wearing uniforms.
President Maduro said the group had been backed by anti-government leaders based in the US and Colombia.
In August 6 video, a rebel leader who identified himself as Juan Caguaripano, said that his group – which he called the 41st Brigade – was taking a stand against the “murderous tyranny of President Nicolás Maduro”.
“This is not a coup but a civic and military action to re-establish constitutional order.”
Violent demonstrations began in April and have spread across Venezuela which, despite being oil-rich, is experiencing severe shortages of food and medicines, as well as inflation in excess of 700%.
The incident in Valencia came the day after the first session of the newly inaugurated Constituent Assembly, seen by the opposition as a way for the left-wing president to cling to power.
Nicolas Maduro has repeatedly said that the new body will bring peace to Venezuela.
The Constituent Assembly has the ability to rewrite the constitution and could override the opposition-controlled parliament, the National Assembly.
Venezuela’s chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz says she was dismissed by the new constituent assembly because the government wanted to stop her investigations into alleged corruption and human rights abuses.
Luisa Ortega, a supporter turned critic of President Nicolás Maduro, has rejected her dismissal.
She will face trial for “serious misconduct”, the Supreme Court says.
Meanwhile, one of the opposition leaders, Leopoldo Lopez, has been returned from jail to house arrest.
Leopoldo López was taken from his home on August 1 and spent four days in a military jail.
South American regional bloc Mercosur has suspended Venezuela “indefinitely”, having previously placed it under a temporary ban. It says the country will not be re-admitted until the constituent assembly is scrapped and all political prisoners are released.
Another opponent of the government, Antonio Ledezma, is also back under house arrest after three days in jail last week.
Antinio Ledezma and Leopoldo Lopez had encouraged protests against the constituent assembly, which is dominated by government supporters.
In its first session on August 5, the assembly unanimously voted to remove Luisa Ortega from her post.
She was prevented from entering her office in Caracas by dozens of National Guard officers in riot gear, and left on a motorbike amid chaotic scenes.
In a statement released by the public prosecutor’s office, Luisa Ortega said President Maduro’s government was leading a “coup against the constitution”.
“I do not recognize the decision,” she said of her dismissal.
“[This is] just a tiny example of what’s coming for everyone that dares to oppose this totalitarian form of ruling.”
Venezuela’s Supreme Court, loyal to Nicolas Maduro, did not give details of the accusations against Luisa Ortega.
Luisa Ortega, who broke ranks with the government in March, had opposed the assembly’s inauguration on August 4, citing allegations of voting fraud.
Tarek William Saab, a supporter of President Nicolas Maduro, has been sworn in as her replacement.
Luisa Ortega’s removal was widely expected but the fact that it was decided on the first working day of the assembly suggested that the new body could take aggressive measures against President Maduro’s critics, correspondents say.
Mexico, Peru and Colombia have condemned Luisa Ortega’s dismissal.
President Maduro says the constituent assembly is needed to bring peace after months of protests sparked by severe economic hardship.
However, the opposition says it is a way for the president to cling to power.
The constituent assembly has the ability to rewrite the constitution, and could override the opposition-controlled parliament, the National Assembly.
Julio Borges, speaker of the National Assembly, said Luisa Ortega’s removal was illegal and showed that the country’s institutions had been “taken hostage by only one hand, only one political party” through “an undemocratic mechanism that is utterly dictatorial.”
Despite being oil-rich, Venezuela is experiencing severe shortages of food and medicines, as well as inflation in excess of 700%. Violent demonstrations since April have left more than 100 people dead.
President Donald Trump has warned that the US holds Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro “personally responsible” for the safety of the seized opposition leaders Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma.
In a statement, President Trump also called for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners.
Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, who had been under house arrest, were taken to a military prison on August 1.
This came after July 30 controversial vote for a constitutional assembly.
At least 10 people were killed, as the opposition boycotted the election.
President Nicolas Maduro said the poll was a “vote for the revolution”, arguing that the move would create peace and foster dialogue by bringing together different sectors of Venezuela’s polarized society.
The opposition said on August 1 that it had decided to hold a demonstration against the new assembly on August 3.
Opposition lawmaker Freddy Guevara tweeted the rally would be held on “the day the dictatorship plans to install the fraudulent assembly”.
It had originally been thought that the government would open the constituent assembly on Wednesday, thereby evicting the opposition-controlled National Assembly.
In his statement, President Trump said the US condemned the actions of the “Maduro dictatorship”.
Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma were “political prisoners being held illegally by the regime”, he added.
“The United States holds Maduro – who publicly announced just hours earlier that he would move against his political opposition – personally responsible for the health and safety of Mr. López, Mr. Ledezma and any others seized.”
Earlier, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described the re-arrest of Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma as “very alarming”.
“The situation from a humanitarian standpoint is already becoming dire,” he said.
“We are evaluating all of our policy options as to what can we do to create a change of conditions, where either Maduro decides he doesn’t have a future and wants to leave of his own accord, or we can return the government processes back to their constitution.”
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced on July 31 that the US had imposed sanctions on President Maduro.
Leopoldo López was taken from his home at 12:27 local time on August 1, his wife, Lilian Tintori, wrote on Twitter.
A video posted showed Leopoldo López being taken away by members of the Venezuelan intelligence service, Sebin.
The daughter of Antonio Ledezma, Vanessa Ledezma, also posted a video of her father, wearing pajamas, being taken away by the Sebin.
Both Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma were key figures in the wave of protests which swept through Venezuela in 2014 in which 43 people from both sides of the political divide were killed.
They have played a less prominent role in the most recent protests because they have been under house arrest but their video messages still get reported and shared widely on opposition websites.
According to Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE), the turnout in the controversial election for a constituent assembly was 41.5%, a figure disputed by the opposition.
The opposition coalition said 88% of voters abstained and it refused to recognize the election. It also called for more protests on July 31.
July 30 election was marred by violence, with widespread protests and at least 10 people killed.
President Nicolás Maduro hailed the poll as a “vote for the revolution”.
Venezuelans were asked to choose the more than 500 representatives who will make up a constituent assembly.
The constituent assembly was convened by Nicolas Maduro to rewrite the existing constitution, which was drafted and passed in 1999 when his mentor, President Hugo Chávez, was in office.
On July 31, the head of the CNE, Tibisay Lucena, announced that there had been an “extraordinary turnout” of more than eight million voters.
She also announced that President Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, was among those elected as representatives, as well as the president’s close allies Diosdado Cabello, Iris Varela and Delcy Rodríguez.
Image source Wikipedia
The announcement was met with outrage and derision by the opposition, who boycotted the vote.
Opposition politician Henry Ramos Allup said their figures suggested fewer than 2.5 million Venezuelans had turned out to vote.
With the opposition boycotting the election from the start and not fielding any candidates, it was always less about who would be elected and more about how many Venezuelans would take part in the voting.
The opposition held an unofficial referendum two weeks before the election asking Venezuelans whether they wanted a constituent assembly at all. According to opposition figures, more than seven million Venezuelans rejected the constituent assembly in that vote.
The opposition urged Venezuelans to stay at home and even some Chavistas (supporters of the socialist movement created by President Hugo Chávez and of which Nicolas Maduro is a part) said they objected to the constituent assembly and would not vote.
There were widespread reports of public sector workers being told by their bosses to go and vote or face being sacked.
How many people turned out was therefore seen as a key indicator of support for the government.
The opposition claims that the figures are unverifiable because a number of procedures which have been in place at previous elections were not followed.
For example, voters’ little fingers were not marked with indelible ink to prevent them from trying to vote multiple times.
There were also no independent observers.
However, Tibisay Lucena said voting had proceeded “normally” and that violent outbreaks at a small number of polling stations had been controlled.
Nicolas Maduro convened the constituent assembly on 1 May amid fierce anti-government protests.
The president argued the constituent assembly would promote “reconciliation and peace”, however he did not give details of exactly how rewriting the constitution would achieve such broad aims.
Government critics fear that President Maduro wants to use the constituent assembly to maximize his power and cling on to it for longer.
As the constituent assembly will be drawing up a new constitution it has the potential to fundamentally change how Venezuela is run.
The last time a constituent assembly met in 1999, the legislature was suspended while the constitution was debated.
The opposition has called for fresh protests on July 31.
On July 30, at least 10 people were killed in protests across the country, prompting opposition leader Henrique Capriles to speak of a “massacre”.
Despite a government ban on protests and the threat of jail terms of up to 10 years for anyone disrupting the electoral process, streets were barricaded and a number of polling stations attacked ahead of the vote.
Tensions are likely to increase further on July 31 and ahead of the swearing-in of the constituent assembly members on August 2.
Puerto Rican stars Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee have lashed out against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, accusing him of using their song, global hit Despacito, for political gains.
President Nicolas Maduro presented an altered version of the song during his weekly TV show on July 23.
The reworked lyrics promoted Nicolas Maduro’s plans for a controversial new citizen’s assembly, which will be elected on July 30 to rewrite the constitution.
The singers branded it an outrage.
Nicolas Maduro was seen clapping along to the remix, as his audience danced.
“Our call to the <Constituent Assembly> only seeks to unite the country … Despacito!” go the new lyrics.
Luis Fonsi responded angrily on social media: “At no point was I asked, nor did I authorize, the use or the change in lyrics of Despacito for political means, and much less so in the middle of the deplorable situation experienced by Venezuela, a country I love so much.
“My music is for all those who want to listen to it and enjoy it, not to be used as propaganda that tries to manipulate the will of a people who are crying out for their freedom.”
Image source YouTube
Daddy Yankee posted a picture of President Maduro with a large red cross over it on Instagram and wrote: “That you illegally appropriate a song [Despacito] does not compare with the crimes you commit and have committed in Venezuela.
“Your dictatorial regime is a joke, not only for my Venezuelan brothers, but for the entire world.”
Despacito translates as “slowly”, referring to the speed of the lead singer’s seduction technique.
However, the Venezuelan version strips back the lyrics.
Instead, the new chorus runs: “Slowly, take your vote rather than weapons, and express your ideas. Always in peace and calm.”
Introducing the new take to an audience of supporters, Nicolas Maduro said a creative group had reworked it and he wanted to put it to the test.
“What do you think, eh?” the president asked the crowd.
Venezuela’s Supreme Court has ordered “civil and military authorities” to carry out “coercive actions” in response to the appointments, but it is unclear what that will entail.
Meanwhile, the opposition Democratic Unity coalition (MUD) has called for protest marches on July 22 from seven points in the capital Caracas to the Supreme Court headquarters.
The opposition says the current justices are illegitimate, having been rushed into their positions shortly before the governing party lost its majority in 2015.
Since the opposition took over the National Assembly last year the court has consistently blocked all bills passed by Congress.
The opposition announced last week that it would appoint new judges and that it would also take the first steps to set up a national unity government. Analysts say such proposals raise the possibility of a parallel state structure.
On July 20, millions of Venezuelans joined a general strike called by the opposition.
At least three people were killed in clashes between police and protesters and there were more than 300 arrests.
Protesters barricaded roads in Caracas and other cities with rubbish and furniture.
The opposition said that 85% of the country joined the strike but President Maduro said its effect was minimal and that its leaders would be arrested.
Meanwhile, Colombia, France, Spain, the US and the EU have urged the Venezuelan government to cancel the vote for a new constituent assembly on July 30.
However, President Nicolas Maduro has rejected the calls.
Cecilia García Arocha, the rector of the Central University of Venezuela, said 6,492,381 people voted within the country and another 693,789 at polling stations abroad. However, the vote has no legal status.
The turnout is slightly less than the 7.7 million people who voted for opposition candidates at the 2015 parliamentary elections. There are 19.5 million registered voters in Venezuela.
Voting Yes or No to three questions, 98% rejected the new assembly proposed by President Nicolas Maduro and backed a call for elections before his term of office ends in 2019.
They also voted for the armed forces to defend the current constitution.
An official vote will be held on July 30 for a new assembly, which would have the power to rewrite the constitution and to dissolve state institutions. However, critics say the new assembly could herald dictatorship.
The July 16 unofficial poll was held in improvised polling stations at theaters, sports grounds and roundabouts within Venezuela and in more than 100 countries around the world.
“They have convened an internal consultation with the opposition parties, with their own mechanisms, without electoral rulebooks, without prior verification, without further verification. As if they are autonomous and decide on their own,” he said.
Nicolas Maduro argues that the constituent assembly is the only way to help Venezuela out of its economic and political crisis.
Opposition leaders fear that the process of setting up a new constituent assembly and rewriting the constitution would almost certainly delay this year’s regional elections and the 2018 presidential election.
They also fear that the constituent assembly would further weaken the National Assembly, Venezuela’s opposition-controlled legislative body.
Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro has surprisingly praised opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez’s jail release.
Leopoldo Lopez, one of Venezuela’s main opposition leaders, has been moved to house arrest after more than three years in jail.
He left a prison near Caracas and was reunited with his family on July 8.
Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza was serving a 14-year sentence for inciting violence during anti-government protests in 2014, a charge he has always denied. The Supreme Court said he was released on health grounds.
President Maduro said he “respected” and “supported” the Supreme Court’s decision but called for “a message of peace and rectification” in Venezuela.
Hours after being freed, Leopoldo Lopez urged supporters to continue protesting in the streets against Nicolas Maduro.
Venezuela’s opposition and international powers have long pressed for Lopez’s freedom. The head of the Organization of American States regional bloc, Luis Almagro, said the court’s decision offered an opportunity for national reconciliation.
Image source Flickr
Former opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles stressed “he must be given his full liberty together with all political prisoners”, Reuters reported.
Giving a glimpse of his son’s life behind bars, Leopoldo Lopez’s father told Spanish radio “a few days ago they had punished him with solitary confinement without light or water for three days”.
He said his son was now wearing an electronic tag so that the authorities could keep abreast of his movements.
Leopoldo Lopez’s wife had complained that she had not been allowed to see him for more than a month, but on July 7 she tweeted she had been allowed an hour-long meeting.
In May, a government lawmaker published a video of Leopoldo Lopez in his cell following rumors that he had been poisoned and taken to hospital.
In the video, Leopoldo Lopez – a Harvard-educated former mayor who has been prevented by the government from standing for public office – said he was well and did not know why he was being asked to prove he was still alive.
Venezuela has been experiencing a wave of anti-government protests similar to those over which Leopoldo Lopez was jailed.
The opposition is calling for early elections and the release of opposition politicians jailed in recent years, saying the socialist governments of President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, have mismanaged the economy since coming to power in 1999.
In an address from the presidential palace, Nicolas Maduro said the helicopter had flown over the Supreme Court and also the justice and interior ministries.
Officials quoted by Reuters said four grenades were dropped on the court and 15 shots had been fired at the interior ministry.
No injuries were reported but President Maduro said “a social event” had been taking place at the Supreme Court and the attack could have caused “dozens of deaths”. One of the grenades failed to detonate, he added.
Nicolas Maduro has placed the military on alert.
“I have activated the entire armed forces to defend the peace,” he said.
“Sooner or later, we are going to capture that helicopter and those who carried out this terror attack.”
The police officer identified himself as Oscar Pérez in video statements posted on the social media platform Instagram.
Appearing in military fatigues and flanked by armed, masked men in uniform, he appealed to Venezuelans to oppose “tyranny”.
Venezuela opposition has set up roadblocks and staged demonstrations demanding elections as the country’s political and economic crisis deepens.
Protesters responded with defiance to President Nicolas Maduro’s call for a new constitution to end unrest that has killed 28 people.
Nicolas Maduro said his move was necessary to fend off a foreign-backed plot against him.
The US said it was a bid to cling to power, while Brazil called it a “coup”.
President Maduro’s opponents want to hold a vote to remove him, blaming the left-wing president for food shortages that have led to rioting.
The president has rejected their calls and issued a presidential decree creating a 500-member “constituent assembly” to rewrite the constitution, a step that would bypass the opposition-controlled National Assembly.
Nicolas Maduro announced the step to thousands of his supporters at a May Day rally two days ago.
Elsewhere, security forces deployed tear gas and water cannon at anti-government demonstrators.
Opposition leaders have called for a “mega protest” on May 3.
There has been widespread international criticism of the move.
The head of the Washington-based Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, called it wrongheaded, unconstitutional and fraudulent.
The US state department spokesman Michael Fitzpatrick told reporters: “We have deep concerns about the motivation for this constituent assembly which overrides the will of the Venezuelan people and further erodes Venezuelan democracy.
“What President Maduro is trying to do yet again is change the rules of the game.”
Meanwhile, Brazilian Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes called the move a “coup”.
“It’s another step in breaking the democratic order, which contradicts the country’s own constitution,” he said.
In Venezuela itself, in the opposition-controlled National Assembly, lawmakers voted to reject the new body with many saying President Nicolas Maduro was attempting to sideline the legislature and avoid new elections.
Nicolas Maduro was elected in 2013 to succeed the late Hugo Chavez, a popular figure who introduced wide-ranging social welfare programs.
The government has called on its supporters to hold rival marches.
Venezuela is deeply divided between those who support the government of the socialist President Nicolas Maduro and those who blame him for the economic crisis and want him gone from power.
Image source Wikimedia
There has been a series of anti-government protests in Caracas and other major cities, as well as marches by government supporters.
In their joint statement, the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay rejected the violence, which led to the deaths of six people during the recent demonstrations.
The Latin American countries called on President Nicolas Maduro “to prevent any violence against protesters” and also called on opposition groups “to exercise their right to demonstrate responsibly so that the day remains peaceful with people expressing themselves calmly”.
They also called on the Venezuela government to quickly set dates for elections to be held “to solve the grave crisis which Venezuela is experiencing and which worries the region”.
Regional elections originally due to be held in December 2016 were postponed by the electoral council to 2017, but a date has not yet been set.
Municipal elections are also due to be held in 2017.
Minister Delcy Rodriguez also wrote that “these governments misuse international law to back interventionism in Venezuela to attempt to govern the country from abroad”.
Delcy Rodriguez ended a series of tweets by saying that “there is no imperialist force in this world which can defeat the sovereign people of Venezuela”.