Three dead as Venezuela's anti-Maduro strike goes into second day

"National meetings and demonstrations, concentrations of people and any similar acts that may disturb or affect the normal development of the electoral process are prohibited throughout the country", Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said at a news conference in Caracas.

Sunday's election - called for by the Maduro government - is for a special assembly that would have powers to rewrite the South American country's 1999 constitution and dissolve state institutions.

"The call we've made for the coming days will require each of you to ask yourselves what role you have to play in Venezuela's rescue", said Freddy Guevara, opposition leader and vice president of the National Assembly.

On Wednesday, the U.S. slapped sanctions on 13 top officials of Venezuela's government for "undermining democracy", just as the Venezuelan opposition initiated a 48-hour general strike called for July 26 and 27, to demand that President Nicolas Maduro cease the July 30 election for a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution. But Maduro insists it is the only way to empower the people and bring peace after four months of anti-government unrest that have killed more than 100 people. His death bears to 105 the total number of deaths since the beginning of the manifestation of anti-Maduro at the beginning of April.

"What happens if they impose the Constituent Assembly?"

Earlier in the day, the Prosecutor's office had confirmed the death of a man of 30 years, Rafael Vergara, mortally wounded by ball in an "irregular situation" between protesters and military in the state of Merida.

Hours after the national strike gripped the country Wednesday, the US Treasury Department announced it is slapping sanctions against 13 Venezuelan government officials.

Elections boss Lucena is scorned by opposition activists, who have said that she has delayed regional elections and blocked a recall referendum against Maduro at the behest of an autocratic government.

Maduro accused the U.S. of fomenting the unrest against him and his government, with the help of the conservative opposition.

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But Cuban Communist Party Second Secretary Jose Ramon Machado Ventura said "Cuba roundly rejects such insinuations and demands absolute respect for the sovereignty and self-determination" of Venezuela.

The hardening political struggle has deepened fears that months of street violence could worsen, perhaps even tip into open civil conflict.

Thousands of Venezuelans have crossed the border into Colombia this week, fleeing the unrest.

But some 70 per cent of Venezuelans are opposed to the Constituent Assembly, according to polling firm Datanalisis.

Meanwhile, the opposition has called for a two-day nationwide strike starting on Wednesday.

At the same time, Maduro's administration is being squeezed by an ongoing economic crisis.

Inflation is projected to top 720 per cent.

"The government is only concerned with its own survival and does not yet appear to be convinced that the game is up and it needs to negotiate an exit strategy", Phillip Gunson, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group based in Caracas, told dpa.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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