Venezuela’s Maduro celebrates new assembly, mocks U.S. criticism

By Brian Ellsworth

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Monday celebrated the election of a new legislative superbody that is expected to give the ruling Socialist Party sweeping powers and mocked U.S. criticism that the vote was an affront to democracy.

At least 10 people were killed on Sunday in protests against the unpopular Maduro, who insists the new body known as the constituent assembly will bring peace after four months of protests that have killed more than 120 people.

Countries across the Americas, as well as the European Union, denounced the creation of the assembly, which will have the power to rewrite the constitution.

The United States – the top market for the OPEC nation’s oil – called the vote a sham, and officials in Washington said they were preparing oil-sector sanctions.

“A spokesperson for emperor Donald Trump said that they would not recognize the results of Venezuela’s constituent assembly election,” Maduro told a crowd of cheering supporters following the completion of the vote.

“Why the hell should we care what Trump says?” he added. “We care about what the sovereign people of Venezuela say.”

Opposition leaders call the election a naked power grab meant to keep the Socialist Party in office despite anger over an economic crisis that has spurred malnutrition and left citizens struggling to obtain basic consumer products.

The country’s elections authority said more than 8 million voters went to the polls on Sunday, while the opposition estimated only 2.5 million ballots were cast.

Allies of the Socialist Party won all 545 seats in the new assembly, which will also have the power to dissolve state institutions such as the opposition-run Congress and sack dissident state officials.

Maduro promised that the new assembly would quickly “restructure” the office of the chief prosecutor. The current top prosecutor, Luisa Ortega, was harshly critical of plan to create the new assembly.

Opposition leaders decried the vote as a fraud and called on supporters to protest again as of midday.

“The constitutional assembly will not resolve any of the country’s problems, it just means more crisis,” opposition leader Henrique Capriles said on Sunday. “As of tomorrow, a new stage of the struggle begins.”

Latin American nations from Argentina to Mexico, which are historically wary of siding with Washington in hemispheric disputes, sharply condemned the vote.

Several refused to recognize the results, while Spain and Canada joined in the…

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