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Crisis Intensifies In Venezuela Ahead Of Controversial Vote


The United States is ordering families of its diplomats in Venezuela to head home. The government of Nicolas Maduro has called for an election this weekend. It wants the power to rewrite that country's constitution. Protesters are planning to expand their demonstrations, and officials are worried those protests could turn violent. Here's NPR's Philip Reeves.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Venezuela's opposition leaders are planning a huge protest on the streets today. It's part of their campaign to get President Nicolas Maduro to cancel Sunday's elections. Maduro has counterattacked.


NESTOR REVEROL: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: His interior minister, Nestor Reverol, yesterday banned all demonstrations for five days. Anyone holding a gathering that, as he put it, might disturb the electoral process, could wind up spending a long time in prison. Protests against Maduro have been going on since the end of March. At least 100 people have been killed. Most were young men, shot during clashes with the security forces. The unrest is fed by acute shortages of food and medicine, caused by the collapse of the economy. Now Venezuela's crisis is getting even worse. Sunday's elections will create a constituent assembly empowered to rewrite the constitution. Maduro's opponents are convinced this will lead to the abolition of Parliament, which they control, and an all-out dictatorship. Parliamentarian Juan Andres Mejia says the vote for the assembly is rigged to ensure it's government-controlled.

JUAN ANDRES MEJIA: The government is aware that they do not control the majority of people, and they're trying to change the rules to benefit their own candidates.

REEVES: Maduro's under growing international pressure to call off Sunday's vote. This week, the U.S. announced sanctions against senior figures in Venezuela's government and security services and warned there'll be more if the vote is held. Maduro dismissed this as...



REEVES: "...Insolent" and "imperialist," as he publicly honored the sanctioned officials. Maduro's showing no sign of backing down, nor are his opponents. Opposition leaders say today's protest will go ahead, even though it's banned and despite the likelihood of more bloodshed.

Philip Reeves, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF CITY OF THE SUN'S "PERFECT INSTANCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
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