Venezuela's oppn stages two-day anti-Maduro shutdown

AFP  Getty Images     
       Opposition demonstrators protest against President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas earlier this month

Venezuela is days away from starting the process of rewriting its constitution by electing members of a Constituent Assembly, which will override the current opposition-led legislature. He said Chavistas and members of the ruling PSUV party will ensure all citizens can exercise their right to vote without any threats.

Venezuela's opposition has claimed 92% support for the national strike that it has called. The country's corrupt socialist government, headed by Nicolas Maduro, has been unmoved by the unrest, the suffering of its people and even a referendum last week in which millions of people demonstrated their dissatisfaction with the regime.

The sanctions come ahead of the planned July 30 election of the ANC that the U.S. Treasury Department says "will have the power to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution and may choose to dissolve Venezuelan state institutions".

And global outcry only goes so far: The prospect of hitting Venezuela with worldwide sanctions is limited at the UN by the country's ties with China and Russian Federation, and at the Organization of American States (OAS) by loyalty from Caribbean nations who have benefited from cheap oil sales from Venezuela in the past, O'Neil says.

In addition to the strike, the opposition has vowed to continue to stage protests, including a massive march scheduled to take place in Caracas on Friday.

The anti-government protests in Venezuela's capital Caracas and a number of major cities have erupted as the oil-rich South American country has been sinking into a deeper and deeper economic crisis, resulting from low oil prices, political mismanagement, and top-level corruption.

Protests during the stoppage have left three people dead - two men, aged 30 and 23, in the western province of Merida, and a 14-year-old boy in an eastern Caracas slum, according to prosecutors.

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The most serious of the potential future steps would be financial sanctions that would halt dollar payments for the country's oil, starving the government of hard currency, or a total ban on oil imports to the United States, Venezuela's biggest customer.

"We demand the executive branch abandon its intention to impose a new constitution", said the group, which is scorned by government supporters for its central role in a short-lived 2002 coup against Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chavez.

Maduro blames his country's woes on the United States.

That has prompted thousands of Venezuelans to flee to neighboring Colombia this week.

The oil export-dependent economy will shrink 12 percent this year, after a contraction of 18% last year, the International Monetary Fund said. With Venezuela already brimming with shuttered stores and factories, amid a blistering four-year recession, the effectiveness of any strike can be hard to gauge.

Maduro critics also held an unofficial vote on July 16 to demonstrate public opposition.

Venezuela's military has declared loyalty to Maduro but prominent opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez directly urged it to withdraw its support from Maduro's plan for a Constituent Assembly, which he called a "constitutional fraud" aimed at eliminating democratic rule.

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