Venezuela bans protests ahead of controversial vote

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Venezuela bans protests ahead of controversial vote

The company's top executive called the move a "difficult decision" while citing safety concerns and operational difficulties, presumably related to the rising instability within Colombia's neighboring country, where food shortages have become constant and at least 100 people have died this year during near-daily protests against President Nicolas Maduro.

"The Merida prosecutor is investigating the death of Rafael Antonio Vergara (30) that occurred this July 26 during a demonstration in Ejido", the Public Ministry tweeted.

Before the strike began, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez urged Venezuelans to keep up protests in a 15-minute video posted online.

The president wants the new body to replace the current national assembly, which the opposition took control of in a crushing midterm election victory in 2015.

A defiant Maduro hit back late on Wednesday, holding a campaign style rally where he presented some of those hit by United States sanctions with replicas of a sword belonging to Latin American independence hero Simon Bolivar.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has denounced as "illegal" the new economic sanctions leveled by the United States against Venezuelan officials over a controversial government plan for rewriting the constitution.

Marco Rubio of Florida said 13 people would be affected by the sanctions.

Among those hit by U.S. sanctions were Tibisay Lucena, the president of the national elections council; Simon Zerpa, the vice president of the state oil company PDVSA; and prominent former ministers Iris Varela and Elias Jaua. "They are few, but they have the weapons and the money", said decorator Cletsi Xavier, 45, helping block the entrance to a freeway in upscale east Caracas with rope and iron metal sheets.

Even some of Maduro's domestic critics have cautioned that the Venezuelan leader could rally his supporters under a nationalist banner if the United States goes too far on sanctions.

Maduro accused the U.S. of fomenting the unrest against him and his government, with the help of the conservative opposition. Maduro over the weekend said the government had held talks with the opposition and that postponing the vote had been on the table but that the opposition did not follow through.

"They try to question the humanity of the other side as a political tactic, and I think that ends up discouraging and dismaying people", said David Smilde, a Tulane University expert on Venezuela.

The teenager, whose identity has not been revealed, is the second victim recorded during the first one-day general strike decreed for 48 hours to attempt to block the election on Sunday of members of the constituent Assembly.

Weighing in on Venezuela's ongoing unrest which has been ravaging the Latin American country since April, Maduro said he believes the solution to the crisis will only be reached "through democracy, popular vote".

Venezuelan authorities will prohibit street protests starting Friday ahead of the upcoming Constitutional Assembly elections on Sunday, Interior Minister Nestor Luis Reverol said Thursday, adding that this ban will be in effect until August 1. He calls on Venezuelans "to stop this with peaceful resistance and deep commitment to our efforts". The right-wing MUD coalition has maintained its belligerent position, calling for a week of actions in hopes of disrupting the elections, which have by and large failed to gain any significant support.

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