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Venezuelan gov't praises controversial election condemned by opposition

By Ray Downs
Venezuelan gov't praises controversial election condemned by opposition
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro pushed for a controversial election Sunday that would choose a new National Assembly. Photo by EPA/Cristian Hernández

July 31 (UPI) -- Venezuela's controversial vote for a new constitutional assembly took place Sunday with praise from the ruling government and sharp criticism from its right-wing opposition, as well as several governments around the world, including the United States.

"Peace has won. If peace has won, Venezuela has won," said National Electoral Council President Tibisay Lucena at a press conference. "Despite the violence and threats, Venezuelans were able to express themselves."

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Lucena said that 41 percent of eligible voters -- more than 8 million people -- voted in the election. But that number was rebuked by the opposition, which estimated only 2 million people voted, while an independent analysis put the number at 3.6 million.

There were several reports of violence in different parts of the country, resulting in seven deaths -- including two teenagers and a soldier at protests in the western state of Tachira, two protesters in the western state of Merida and a 30-year-old youth opposition leader in the northeast town of Cumana, according to Al Jazeera.

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Police in Caracas also appeared to have been attacked by a roadside bomb. Video circulated on social media shows several police officers on motorcycles moving into an area when a large explosion takes place.

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Spain and several Latin American countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Peru, said they would not recognize the vote, which gives broad powers to the country's National Assembly.

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The U.S. State Department also criticized the vote.

"The United States condemns the election imposed on July 30 for the National Constituent Assembly, which is designed to replace the legitimately elected National Assembly and undermine the Venezuelan people's right to self-determination," said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.

The anti-government opposition says the broadening of powers represent a slide toward dictatorship.

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"Today's journey has been one of abstention and repression, with dead and wounded. A monumental failure!" tweeted Henrique Capriles, the governor of the state of Miranda and an opposition leader who lost to President Nicolas Maduro in a 2013 race.

But the government and its supporters contend that a new assembly will provide an opportunity to rewrite the country's constitution and solve some of its deep problems.

"The constituent assembly will be the power," Javier Granadillo, a 46-year-old mechanic in Caracas who voted Sunday and blamed the opposition for the current crisis, reported the New York Times. "If any part of the government doesn't do its job, they will be dissolved."

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While the National Assembly election has largely been depicted by international media and several foreign governments as a Maduro government power-grab, the Venezuela state-funded Telesur news service pushed back against these allegations, arguing that calling for the election is legal under the current constitution. The news service also praised the election of a diverse assembly inclusive of more LGBT and indigenous people.

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