Exceptionally low voter turnout at Maduro's illegal constituent assembly election in Venezuela; 16 killed

Deadly protests rocked Venezuela on Sunday as voters broadly boycotted an election for a constitutional assembly that unpopular leftist President Nicolas Maduro vowed would begin a "new era of combat" in the crisis-stricken nation.

Anti-Maduro activists demonstrated on Sunday to denounce the election as a naked power grab by the president. Security forces moved in quickly to violently disperse protesters. 

Opposition leaders said 16 people were killed in the confrontations, which made Sunday one of the deadliest days since massive protests started in early April. 

Opposition parties sat out the election, saying it was rigged to increase Maduro's powers, a view shared by countries including Spain, Switzerland, Canada, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Great Britain, and the United States. 

Caracas was largely shut down, streets were deserted and polling stations were mostly empty, dealing a blow to the legitimacy of the vote. 

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. The opposition vowed to hold protests again on Monday and to keep pressuring Maduro's cash-strapped government until he's forced from office. 

"Even if they win today, this won't last long," said opposition supporter Berta Hernandez, a 60-year-old doctor from Caracas. "I'll continue on the streets because, not long from now, this will come to an end." 

Recent polls showed some 70 percent of Venezuelans opposed the vote. 

The opposition estimated participation was at around a paltry 12 percent, some 2.2 million people, but warned the government was gearing up to announce some 8.5 million people had voted. 

Clashes were reported all around the country, including in the volatile Andean state of Tachira, whose capital is San Cristobal, where witnesses told Reuters an unidentified group of men had showed up at two separate street protests and shot at demonstrators. Fatalities over the weekend included two teenagers and a candidate to the assembly killed during a robbery in the jungle state of Bolivar.