A youth opposition leader and a candidate to Venezuela’s all-powerful legislative body tasked with reforming the constitution have been shot dead amid the country’s controversial election.
Ricardo Campos, the 30-year-old regional secretary of the youth opposition party Democratic Action, was shot dead, said an opposition lawmaker Henry Ramos Allup.
The circumstances in the death that occurred in the northeastern town of Cumana had yet to be investigated, according to the prosecutors’ office said.
Earlier, Jose Felix Pineda, 39, the candidate for the new Constituent Assembly in Venezuela’s southeastern town of Ciudad Bolivar, was killed from multiple shots fired by assailants who broke into his home overnight, prosecutors said on Sunday.
He was the second candidate to be murdered, after the July 10 death of another, Jose Luis Rivas, as he was campaigning in the northern city of Maracay.
In the west of Caracas, national guard troops fanning out to put down any disruption to the election used armoured vehicles and fired shots to disperse protesters blocking roads.
Video posted on Twitter showed troops smashing down a metal gate and entering to the sounds of gunfire, and what appeared to be an armoured vehicle on fire.
|Turnout will be key to determining the legitimacy of the election [Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]|
Sunday’s unrest highlighted the tensions over the vote called by beleaguered President Nicolas Maduro despite months of demonstrations and fierce international criticism.
He is gambling his four-year rule on the 545-member citizens’ Constituent Assembly empowered to dissolve the opposition-controlled congress and change laws as it reforms the nation’s constitution.
Maduro kicked off voting by casting his ballot in a west Caracas polling station.
“I’m the first voter in the country. I ask God for his blessings so the people can freely exercise their democratic right to vote,” he said.
He was accompanied by his wife, Cilia Flores, who is a candidate to sit on the new assembly.
Al Jazeera’s John Holman, reporting from Caracas, said that the opposition feels that the vote is stacked against them in favour of government supporters.
“A leading newspaper here summed up this vote when it said, ‘The government is choosing its representatives,’ as no opposition candidates are taking part in it.”
Turnout will be key to determining the legitimacy of the election. But that will be difficult to ascertain as most voters will be able to vote twice, as candidates are drawn from social and industry sectors as well as geographically.
Surveys by Datanalisis, a pro-opposition polling firm, show more than 70 percent of Venezuelans opposed the idea of the new assembly – and 80 percent reject Maduro’s leadership.
Maduro decreed a ban on protests during and after the vote, threatening prison terms of up to 10 years for anyone violating the order.
Four months of protests against Maduro and the new assembly have left more than 100 people dead.
The United States, the European Union and Latin American powers, including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, have come out against the election, saying it would destroy Venezuelan democracy.
Several foreign airlines, including Air France, Delta, Avianca and Iberia have suspended flights to the country over worries about security.
Families of US diplomats have been ordered to leave following the imposition of American sanctions on 13 current and former Venezuelan officials.
How long can Nicolas Maduro cling to power? – Inside Story (25:00)
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies