US hits ‘dictator’ Maduro with sanctions over disputed Venezuela vote

Caracas (AFP) – The United States hit Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro with direct sanctions on Monday over a disputed and deadly weekend vote that, while consolidating his power, has largely isolated him at home and abroad as the “dictator” of a failing petro-state.

The US measures were unusual in that they targeted a sitting head of state, but their reach was mostly symbolic, freezing any US assets Maduro might have and banning people under US jurisdiction from dealing with him.

“Maduro is a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

Mexico, Colombia, Peru and other nations joined the US in saying they did not recognize the results of Sunday’s election, which appointed a new “Constituent Assembly” superseding Venezuela’s legislative body, the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

Maduro’s own attorney general, Luisa Ortega — who broke with him months ago over his policies — also said she would not acknowledge the body, calling it part of the president’s “dictatorial ambition” to do away with political and civil rights.

The European Union expressed “preoccupation for the fate of democracy in Venezuela” and said it, too, doubted it could accept the results.

However, Russia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia stood by Maduro, who shrugged off mass protests and a previous round of US sanctions on some of his officials to see through the election.

The National Electoral Council claimed more than 40 percent of Venezuela’s 20 million voters had cast ballots Sunday.

“It is the biggest vote the revolution has ever scored in its 18-year history,” Maduro said, dressed in the red associated with the socialist revolution started by his late mentor, Hugo Chavez.

But the leader of the opposition congress, Julio Borges, said Venezuela has found itself “more divided and isolated in the world.”

– More protests –

According to the opposition, voter turnout was closer to 12 percent, a figure more aligned with the lack of lines that were seen at many polling stations.

Surveys by polling firm Datanalisis showed more than 70 percent of Venezuelans were opposed the new assembly.

Further protests were called for Monday and beyond, stoking fears that the death toll in four months of protests against Maduro could rise beyond the more than 120 already recorded.

“I feel awful, frustrated with this fraud,” said one Caracas resident, Giancarlo Fernandez, 35.

Demonstrators were ignoring a ban on protests put in place by…

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