Candidate in Venezuela shot dead ahead of election

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro pushed on Saturday with a controversial weekend vote for an assembly to rewrite the constitution, despite fierce political opposition, worldwide condemnation and deadly street demonstrations. Ricardo Campos, a youth secretary with the opposition Accion Democratica party, was shot and killed during a protest, the head of the national assembly said.

Maduro has deployed the military and police to clear blockades and protect a vote that he says is meant to end the power struggle with the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which he blames for Venezuela's spiraling political, economic and social crisis.

The Swiss Foreign ministry has said it is "deeply concerned" about the current situation in Venezuela and that the election of a new constituent assembly in the country should be scrapped.

"A group broke" in José Felix Pineda, a lawyer of 39 years, Ciudad Bolivar (south-east), "and shot him several times", said the public Ministry of venezuela on Twitter, without mentioning any grounds.

The security forces have used armoured vehicles to dispel protesters in the Caracas district of El Paraíso amid the sound of gunfire, AFP says, citing local reports.

If successful, President Maduro will essentially govern a one-party state, controlling the powerful 545-member body charged with re-writing the Venezuelan constitution.

The opposition is boycotting the vote, saying the election rules have been rigged to favor the ruling socialist party and will only serve to tighten Maduro's grip on power.

Maduro kicked off voting by casting his ballot in a west Caracas polling station. "I ask God for his blessings so the people can freely exercise their democratic right to vote", he said. The new assembly is scheduled to sit within 72 hours after results were officially certified.

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

But that will be hard to ascertain as most voters will be able to vote twice, because candidates were drawn from social and industry sectors as well as geographically.

The opposition has organized a series of work stoppages as well as a July 16 protest vote that it said drew more than 7.5 million symbolic votes against the constitutional assembly.

The opposition planned further protests on Sunday despite a government ban and prison sentences as high as 10 years for protesters.

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.

Several foreign airlines have suspended flights to the country, and families of U.S. diplomats there have been ordered to leave.

The US, the European Union, the Organization of American States, as well as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico oppose the election, warning it could decapitate Venezuela's democracy and lead to further unrest.

Opinion polls indicated more than two-thirds of the nation opposed the president's efforts, and early voting at many polling places was light.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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