7 million Venezuelans vote to reject Maduro - opposition

Handout.  Reuters
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a ceremony at the National Pantheon in Caracas

"Prisoners are persecuted in front of arbitrary military tribunals, violating the Constitution...as if they were unsafe animals", they added.

Over the past couple of years the escalating crises in what once was the richest South American country has led to steep deterioration of public health with infectious diseases such as malaria creeping back.

David Smilde, a Tulane University expert on Venezuela, said Sunday's results would likely rally the global community even more strongly against the July 30 vote Maduro has called to elect members of the assembly that will retool Venezuela's 1999 constitution.

Across Venezuela, voters overwhelmingly backed proposals to halt Mr Maduro's plans.

"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.

The result may not have been binding, but Venezuela "sent a clear message to the national executive and the world", announced Central University of Venezuela president Cecilia Garcia Arocha, noting that 6,492,381 voted in the country and 693,789 overseas.

An unofficial referendum in Venezuela Sunday was marked by violence, after gunmen fired shots into a crowd of voters, killing one person and injuring three others.

Though the dividing lines and conflicts are not new, Maduro's hesitation to hold a presidential election led to the recent bout of street violence and protests, leading to the death of around 90 people.

Maduro has called for the creation of a "constituent assembly", a Soviet-like body that will seek to modify the country's constitution. They also voted for the armed forces to defend the current constitution.

According to the opposition, the formation of the new assembly could be herald dictatorship.

Academics monitoring the vote said that 7,186,170 people took part in the non-binding referendum.

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Opposition leaders said that was because it was only able to set up 2,000 polling places in a symbolic exercise the government labeled as illegitimate.

The opposition plans to burn ballot papers from the informal poll so those who voted against the government can not be identified and victimized.

Various former Latin American heads of state attended Sunday's vote as observers in support of the opposition. Still, some supporters said they were disappointed.

A view of confrontations between pro and anti-government demonstrators as members of the police patrol the area during an unofficial referendum organized by the opposition in Caracas, Venezuela, 16 July 2017.

Venezuelans living overseas were also given a chance to vote, with impromptu stations in the US, Italy, Spain, Mexico and Columbia - all popular destinations for the ever increasing number of refugees fleeing the crisis in Venezuela.

State media largely ignored the event, concentrating instead on a trial run on Sunday for the July 30 vote, while Maduro allies accused the opposition of inflating vote numbers.

Tibisay Lucena, president of the National Electoral Council, CNE, said on Sunday that the voting exercise was particularly important to ensure that the voters can exercise their right to vote in safe conditions. "The constitutional assembly is something that benefits the people".

"I was mugged three times in a year, " Monique recounted, and said her husband's house was broken into.

"That was the fear they had of a recall referendum and for that reason prevented it", he said about the vote that was requested by the opposition and obstructed by judicial measures previous year.

Calling it "a hymn to peace", Maduro said the people of Venezuela through their extensive participation in the constituent electoral process have shown that the way to solve the country's problems is through peace.

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