At least three people were reported to have been killed in protests as Venezuela held a ballot over a controversial measure critics of Nicolas Maduro say will further cement his control of the country.
Opponents of Mr Maduro boycotted the election and reports said the streets of many cities were largely quiet as a trickle of people went out to vote. Tens of thousands of troops were deployed to ensure order.
But the country chief prosecutor’s office said there were at least three deaths it knew of. It said 28-year-old Angelo Mendez and 39-year-old Eduardo Olave were killed at a protest in Merida, while 30-year-old Ricardo Campos was killed in a separate incident in Sucre.
TODO el país a la calle con trancazos y en Caracas concentración masiva para ratificar el mandato del 16J: ¡No al FRAUDE de constituyente!
— Leopoldo López (@leopoldolopez) July 30, 2017
Leaders with the opposition Democratic Action party on Twitter identified Mr Campos as the group’s youth secretary in Sucre, according to the Associated Press. Earlier, there were reports of at least two people being killed on Saturday.
Mr Maduro, who was elected in 2013 following the death of Hugo Chavez, cast his vote in Caracas shortly after 6am. He also asked for global acceptance of the results.
“We’ve stoically withstood the terrorist, criminal violence,” Mr Maduro said, according to AP. “Hopefully the world will respectfully extend its arms toward our country.”
Yet Venezuela’s opposition parties wanted nothing do do with the vote. They have argued the new assembly will allow the president to dissolve the opposition-run Congress, suspend future elections and rewrite electoral rules.
The day before the vote, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who was recently released from jail, said there would be protests across the country. “No to constitutional fraud,” he said on Twitter.
“Even if they win today, this won’t last long,” said opposition supporter Berta Hernandez, referring to the vote that only contained government candidates. “I’ll continue on the streets because, not long from now, this will come to an end.”
The controversy over the assembly is the latest development in months of unrest that have beset Venezuela against a backdrop of food shortages, soaring inflation and growing anger against the government. Even many supporters of Mr Chavez have grown weary with what they consider Mr Maduro’s ineffectiveness; the opposition has called for him to stand down.