Demonstrations have rocked Venezuela as voters broadly boycotted an election for a constitutional super-body that unpopular leftist President Nicolas Maduro has vowed will begin a "new era of combat" in the crisis-stricken nation.
Anti-Maduro activists wearing hoods or masks erected barricades on roads, and scuffles broke out with security forces who moved in quickly to disperse demonstrators who denounced the election as a naked power grab by the President.
Authorities said seven people were killed in the confrontations. The opposition said the true death toll was around 15, which would make yesterday one of the deadliest days since protests started in early April. A bomb exploded in Caracas and injured seven police officers.
Maduro, widely disliked for overseeing an unravelling of Venezuela's economy, has promised that the assembly will bring peace by way of a new constitution after four months of opposition protests in which about 120 people have been killed. But opposition parties sat out the election, saying it was rigged to increase Maduro's powers, a view shared by governments including those of Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Panama and the United States.
Caracas was largely shut down with deserted streets and polling stations were mostly empty, dealing a blow to the legitimacy of the vote. Venezuela's National Electoral Council says the vote was 41.53 per cent, or 8,089,320 people. The count was met with mockery and anger from members of the opposition, who said they believed between 2 million and 3 million people voted. One well-respected independent analysis said 3.6 million appeared to have voted.
Critics say the assembly will allow Maduro to dissolve the opposition-run Congress, delay future elections and rewrite electoral rules to prevent the socialists from being voted out of power in the once-thriving Opec nation.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles says the political foes of Maduro also plan to mount a protest on the day the new assembly takes office. That is supposed to take place within 72 hours of the final results being announced.
- Reuters, AAP, AP