Violence mars Venezuelan election as voters stay away from polls in protest

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BOGOTA, COLOMBIA—A vote to pick the people who will restructure Venezuela’s government was marred by violence Sunday as one candidate was killed in his home the night before, an explosion was set off on a busy street and at least eight people died in clashes between protesters and police.

President Nicolas Maduro had ordered a rewriting of Venezuela’s constitution, its governing charter. Sunday’s election was to pick the members of the constituent assembly that will carry it out. Nearly all candidates were politicians close to Maduro, presumably assuring that the outcome would leave his leftist movement with complete control of the country once the assembly takes charge.

“I said rain, thunder or lightning, the 30th of July was going to come,” the president said in a video made from his vehicle after he cast his ballot.

But the powers of the new assembly members will be so vast that they could remove Maduro from office, some analysts noted, ending a presidency that has been deeply unpopular.

Many Venezuelans decided not to vote, as evidenced by short or no lines at polling places, dealing a blow to the popular legitimacy of Maduro’s effort.

Opposition leaders had called for a boycott of the vote, declaring it rigged for the ruling party, and by late afternoon they were declaring the low turnout a resounding victory.

Prosecutors said Sunday that they were investigating the death of Jose Felix Pineda, a 39-year-old lawyer running for the constituent assembly. An armed group broke into Pineda’s home in the city of Ciudad Bolívar on Saturday night and shot him dead there, they said.

Hours later, a large explosion rocked a neighbourhood in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, injuring seven police officers on patrol there.

Nearby residents applauded as security forces threw tear gas at them.

Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Panama, Peru and the United States said they would not recognize Sunday’s vote. Canada and Mexico have also issued statements repudiating the election.

The unrest came after three months of protests that have left more than 110 people dead, raising fears that Maduro’s efforts to consolidate power could steer the country toward deeper civil conflict.

Some polls leading up to Sunday’s voting showed that large majorities of Venezuelans did not think their country needed a new constitution.

President Donald Trump threatened “swift economic actions” from the United States, which buys nearly half of Venezuela’s major export, oil, if Maduro went through with Sunday’s vote.

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