Caracas (July 28, 2017): Venezuela’s government says it will ban protests ahead of this weekend’s vote for a special constitutional assembly — a direct challenge to opposition leaders who planned massive Friday demonstrations against the election.
The ban, announced on Thursday toward the end of an opposition-led general strike that shuttered some businesses nationwide for two days, begins Friday and continues through Tuesday, interior and justice minister Nestor Reverol said.
He prohibited “all public meetings and demonstrations, gatherings and other similar acts that might disturb the electoral process.”
Those who run afoul of the ban risk prison sentences of five to 10 years, he said. The move comes as Venezuela, in the midst of an economic and political crisis that has spurred street protests for months, prepares for Sunday’s vote called by President Nicolás Maduro.
Voters will elect representatives for a 545-seat special assembly that would have powers to rewrite the South American country’s 1999 constitution and dissolve state institutions.
Maduro’s critics say the new body would essentially replace the opposition-led National Assembly, and allow Maduro supporters to give him more sweeping powers. Maduro has said that rewriting the constitution is needed to restore order, apply justice and re-establish peace.
On the other hand, opposition leaders already have called for mass demonstrations Friday in the capital, Caracas.
Maduro, during a huge rally for his supporters, told the crowd he has proposed talks with the opposition, “a table for dialogue and reconciliation for the homeland.”
The President said he wanted to avoid more violence and the opposition should stop protesting in the streets. “A table of peace. A real table of peace,” Maduro shouted. “I would be happy if we could install this before the (vote).”
Freddy Guevara, vice president of the National Assembly, said Thursday evening that protests will continue through Sunday. “We will not kneel, we will not fail. We will fight,” he added.