Protests Continue In Venezuela With Special Election Looming Ahead

Venezuela crisis enters new phase with Sunday vote

Referendum will only worsen crisis, say Venezuelan bishops

Hairdresser Luisa Marquez said she hoped to get a house as she waited with her daughter in a line outside a center to vote Sunday for an all-powerful constitutional assembly that Maduro's opponents fear he'll use to replace Venezuela's democracy with a single-party authoritarian system.

José Felix Pineda, a 39-year-old lawyer running in the election, was shot in his home last night local time, a senior Venezuelan minister said.

On the eve of the election, however, anti-government demonstrators blocked roads in the capital in defiance of a ban on protest rallies, raising the prospect of violent clashes with security forces in coming days.

Others said they were there out of conviction that the constitutional assembly would help the government fend off what they called an global capitalist conspiracy to undermine Venezuela's socialist system with the help of the domestic opposition.

"Vice President Pence once again called for the full and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Venezuela, free and fair elections, restoration of the National Assembly, and respect for human rights in Venezuela".

More than 100 people have died in anti-government unrest convulsing Venezuela since April, when the opposition launched protests demanding conventional elections to end almost two decades of socialist rule. The prosecutors office reported a youth opposition leader was killed in the coastal city of Cumana and it was investigating two other deaths related to protests in the Andean state of Merida.

After voting, Maduro told the media and the people gathered at the polling place settled by the National Electoral Council, that his vote was the first one for the peace, the independence, the sovereignty and the future peace.

Turnout will be key to determining the legitimacy of the election.

Only 23 percent of Venezuelans favor the new assembly plans, according to a June survey by polling firm Datanalisis.

Fear of the violence worsening has rippled across the region, and beyond.

Opinion polls say more than 70 percent of the country is opposed to Sunday's vote.

Air France and Iberia both announced they were suspending their flights to the country during the weekend vote.

Families of U.S. diplomats have been ordered to leave following the imposition of American sanctions on 13 current and former Venezuelan officials.

"We're going to keep fighting", said opposition legislator Jorge Millan.

The special assembly being selected on Sunday will have powers to rewrite the country's 1999 constitution but will also have powers above and beyond other state institutions, including the opposition-controlled congress.

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans from across the country lined up long before dawn to cast their ballots on Sunday for the National Constituent Assembly.

Government leaders have suggested it will swiftly take measures against chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, who has openly criticized the assembly vote, as well as the opposition congress.

Once one of Latin America's wealthiest nations, Venezuela has spiraled into a devastating crisis during Maduro's four years in power, thanks to plunging oil prices and widespread corruption and mismanagement.

Maduro has the military behind him.

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