Few heed call for mass protest in Venezuela’s capital

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Few demonstrators heeded opposition calls for a mass protest Friday in Venezuela’s capital against President Nicolas Maduro’s divisive push to rewrite the constitution by a constituent assembly to be elected Sunday.

Streets in Caracas were largely devoid of protests a day after Interior Minister Nestor Reverol announced that authorities were prohibiting any demonstrations from taking place through Tuesday.

Opposition leaders had urged Venezuelans to demonstrate anyway in a protest they billed as the “Taking of Caracas,” hoping for a dramatic culmination of three days of protests that started with a 48-hour nationwide general strike. But the hundreds of thousands who have sometimes taken to the streets during nearly four months of anti-government protests were largely absent.

“Here we are in the streets, just like the first day,” opposition lawmaker Jose Manuel Olivares said, urging people to reject Reverol’s demonstration ban. “Let’s not be victims of fear.”

There were isolated clashes between National Guard troops and small groups of young demonstrators who call themselves “The Resistance.” A few protest barricades went up in opposition-friendly eastern Caracas, but the city was relatively calms two days before Sunday’s constituent assembly election.

Maduro has deployed the military and police to clear blockades and protect a vote that he says is meant to end the power struggle with the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which he blames for Venezuela’s spiraling political, economic and social crisis. The opposition is boycotting the vote, saying the election rules have been rigged to favor the ruling socialist party and will only serve to tighten Maduro’s grip on power.

International pressure to cancel the vote intensified Friday, with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence reiterating in a telephone call with opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez that the United States would respond with “strong and swift economic actions” if the election proceeds.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santo said he would not recognize the constituent assembly, given that it has “illegitimate origins.” His finance minister also told a local radio station the neighboring nation would sanction the same 13 former and current Venezuelan officials cited by the U.S. on Wednesday.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, one of Maduro’s most vocal opponents, said in a meeting with two other U.S. legislators that he expects further sanctions if the assembly vote proceeds.

Maduro…

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