A masked protester protests during riots with members of the National Bolivarian Guard in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday. Friday, the Venezuelan government banned demonstrations ahead of this weekend's election. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez/EPA
July 28 (UPI) -- The Venezuelan government on Friday ordered a ban on demonstrations, amid a two-day strike against proposed constitutional reforms.
The government announced the ban on all protests that "might disturb the electoral process" of Sunday's election. Nestor Reverol, the interior and justice minister, warned that violators face prison sentences of five to 10 years if they violate the ban.
This weekend, voters will elect a 545-member special assembly that will be charged with rewriting the Venezuelan constitution -- and will have the power to eliminate state agencies. Opponents see the Constituent Assembly as a step toward dictatorship by the party of President Nicolas Maduro.
A mass protest in Caracas remained scheduled for Friday, in the midst of the 48-hour general strike that started Thursday.
Anti-government protests, which began in April, increased this week. Incidents linked to protests on Wednesday and Thursday led to the deaths of seven demonstrators, the nation's attorney general's office said. Hundreds of Maduro's supporters marched in the streets Thursday on the final day of the election campaign.
Since April, more than 100 people have been killed and more than 1,900 people have been injured in the country's ongoing political crisis. The upheaval was motivated by the Venezuelan Supreme Court's dissolution of parliament in late March and the transfer of legislative powers to the court. The decision was reversed, but it triggered rioting and assertions by the anti-government opposition that Venezuela was evolving into a dictatorship under Maduro.
The United States imposed economic sanctions this week on 13 Venezuelan officials, including Revenol, and ordered families of its embassy staff to leave the this week.
Colombian-based Avianca Airlines stopped flying to Venezuela on Thursday and Delta Air Lines announced it will end its only weekly flight, from Atlanta to Caracas, in September.