Death toll in Venezuela continues to rise as government bans protests ahead of controversial National Constituent Assembly vote
Days before a polarizing vote to start rewriting its constitution, Venezuela is convulsing to a rhythm of daytime strikes and nocturnal clashes. Three deaths reported from violence in the second day of a 48-hour national strike drove the death toll from nearly four months of unrest above 110.
Addressing a multitude of government supporters dressed in red Thursday, Maduro called on Venezuelans to vote in Sunday's controversial election for delegates to an assembly that is to rewrite the constitution. Opposition leaders are urging Venezuelans to boycott the vote, saying the election rules were rigged to guarantee Maduro a majority and arguing that a new constitution could replace democracy with a single-party authoritarian system.
Earlier, officials announced a host of security measures that were being enacted including an order that no political protests be held between through Tuesday. The opposition called for a mass demonstration in Caracas on Friday, raising the potential for further clashes amid the rising tensions. Washington ordered relatives of U.S. diplomats to leave the Venezuelan capital ahead of the divisive vote.
The mounting deaths of demonstrators have now become a separate source of outrage for the young people who march during the day and assemble nightly to fight police officers and national guardsmen at improvised barricades across the country.
"The ones who have fallen fighting repression motivate us to keep fighting," said Sandra Fernandez, a 21-year-old university student.
The country's chief prosecutor reported Thursday on Twitter that a 16-year-old was killed at a protest in the capital overnight and a 23-year-old man died at a demonstration in Merida state. A 49-year-old man in Carababo, west of Caracas, was reported killed during a protest Thursday afternoon, and a 16-year-old died from a head wound suffered Wednesday at a protest in the capital. Late Thursday, a 30-year-old man was reported killed during a protest in the southwestern town of Merida.
The killings pushed the death toll of the political crisis to at least 114, and most of the dead since protests began in April have been young men killed by gunfire. The country has also seen thousands of injuries and arrests during the opposition-led 48-hour strike.
The chief prosecutor's office has blamed many of the deaths in protests on armed motorcycle gangs of government supporters known as "colectivos" who are often seen shooting indiscriminately at protesters while police and soldiers stand by.