Venezuelan Opposition Draws 7.1 Million Protest Voters Against Government

By Andrew Cawthorne and Andreina Aponte

The results of a referendum in Venezuela showed that 98.4 per cent of voters rejected the formation of a National Constituent Assembly, as proposed by President Nicolas Maduro in order to change the constitution.

"With 95 percent of the votes counted we have 7,187,170 voters who participated", she said, adding that 6.4 million of the votes were in the country while 693,789 Venezuelans cast their ballots overseas.

Venezuela's opposition called on Monday for a national shutdown against President Nicolas Maduro in a major escalation of protests against a leftist government it accuses of flouting the people's will.

Analysts said the vote for the opposition across Venezuela and the country's far-flung diaspora was an impressive show of support.

"Overall the package is pretty radical, especially the idea of a parallel government", said David Smilde, a Tulane University expert on Venezuela.

"They (MUD) have a quiet consultation today (.) I tell them not to go insane, we make a call for them to return to peace, to sit down and talk, to begin a new cycle of dialogue for peace", said Maduro during a telephone interview with the state-owned Venezolana de Television. Results showed 98.5 per cent of respondents voted in favour of the armed forces protecting the constitution following the decisions of the opposition- controlled National Assembly, which was declared in contempt by the Supreme Court previous year, stripping it of its powers.

Venezuela's opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition claimed the high turnout - about a third of the 19 million eligible voters - provided a mandate for them to challenge Maduro.

Specifically, the government was holding a simulation of the July 30 vote to elect a National Constituent Assembly (ANC) while the opposition was organizing an unofficial referendum of its own to gauge public support for or rejection of the ANC. "Let's start a new round of talks, of dialogue for peace".

Earlier in the day, opposition parties had floated the idea of escalating more than three months of street protests, which have left at least 93 people dead and 1,500 wounded.




The rector of the Central University of Venezuela, Cecilia GarcĂ­a Arocha, said 6,492,381 people voted inside Venezuela and another 693,789 at polling stations overseas.

In smaller numbers in many parts of the capital, government supporters also went to polling stations on Sunday in a rehearsal for the July 30 vote.

"Our president Chavez supported the poor, the people", said Yveth Melendez, a 41-year-old homemaker waiting outside a school in the south Caracas neighborhood of El Valle, a stronghold of government support that has been weakening in recent years.

"If they're forcing us, it isn't democracy", Madriz said.

"So for us it's binding", Di Giovanni says, "and we are following the constitution".

The referendum asked voters three yes-no questions.

The opposition's unofficial poll attempts to determine what Venezuelans think about key criticisms against Maduro's regime - that Venezuela's institutions, including security forces and the Supreme Tribunal of Justice top court, work in Maduro's favor; that the National Assembly has been stripped of power; and that a majority of Venezuelans support the removal of Maduro as president. The government blames the crisis on an economic war waged by its opponents and outside backers.

One unexpected challenger who has emerged is Venezuela's chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Diaz.

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