Venezuela regional election date set amid opposition rebuke

Maduro says the grassroots body is needed to bring peace to Venezuela, where almost two months of anti-government protests have left more than 50 people dead, but opponents view it as a cynical tactic to buy time and avoid a general election.

The president says a new constitution will bring peace to Venezuela, but the opposition says it is a ruse to delay holding elections.

Anti-government demonstrators have been calling for early presidential elections in light of the nation's triple-digit inflation, rising crime and vast food shortages.

The Assembly, which, according to Maduro, will be comprised of 500 representatives, has the power to change the system of the government or draw up a new constitution, and neither the president nor other existing constituted authorities, including the parliament now controlled by the opposition, can object against it.

Elections to the new assembly will take place at the end of July, the National Electoral Council president Tibisay Lucena later said in a televised statement.

At least 53 people have been killed as a result of unrest that began in early April.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.

Seven people died in protests there in the last few days, according to the state prosecutor.

Mr Maduro issued a decree to convene a constituent assembly amid continuing anti-government protests.

"Votes or bullets, what do the people want?" The prosecutor has panned his assembly plan and a Supreme Court magistrate also criticized it. Opposition leaders say various military dissenters have been rounded up.

The government abruptly decided a year ago to postpone regional elections the opposition was heavily favored to win and also called off a petition drive to force a referendum seeking Maduro's removal.

At an open air rally before thousands of supporters wearing red t-shirts, Maduro signed a document formally establishing the terms for electing members of a "constituent assembly" that will be tasked with drafting a new constitution. He said 540 representatives will be selected in elections, and that the assembly will favour groups including workers and students over political and economic elites.

Enraged by the economic crisis and perceived lack of democratic solutions, some Venezuelans have taken out their ire by publicly shaming government officials or knocking down statues of Hugo Chavez, the late firebrand leftist leader who governed Venezuela from 1999 to 2013.

In the lower middle-class Caracas neighborhood of El Paraiso, masked men on Monday night shot up an apartment building and parked cars in what one resident, who asked not to be named out of fear of reprisals, said was retaliation for barricades set up nearby by opposition sympathizers.

Hundreds of people also have been injured and more than 2,600 arrested, with about 1,000 still jailed, according to rights groups.

"The rumors started that they were going to sell something, so everyone came out and started to beat on the warehouse door, there were a lot of desperate people, kids and pregnant women", said a local resident, asking to remain anonymous.

  • Zachary Reyes