Venezuelans have been protesting against President Nicolas Maduro to demand he respect the opposition-led Congress and resolve chronic food and medicine shortages.

Demonstrators clash with riot security forces while rallying against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela, July 28, 2017.
Demonstrators clash with riot security forces while rallying against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela, July 28, 2017.

Rock-throwing Venezuelans braved tear gas and rainstorms on Friday, blocking streets in protest against a legislative super-body to be elected on Sunday that critics call a plan by President Nicolas Maduro to create a dictatorship.

The imminent election of a constituent assembly has been broadly condemned by countries around the world as a weakening of democratic governance in the OPEC nation, which is also struggling under a crippling economic crisis.

Opposition demonstrators said urgency was increasing as they set up barricades along main roads in the capital, Caracas, pelted by sheets of rain and teargas canisters fired by police.

"If this election happens on Sunday, we lose everything. We lose Venezuela," said a 23-year-old-woman who identified herself as a student, face covered against the gas, declining to give her name.

There were fewer protesters on Friday than during a two-day national strike this week.

Confrontations with security forces, which have left more than 110 dead over the last four months, were relatively modest on Friday amid tropical downpours and a government ban on demonstrations.

Venezuelans have been protesting against Maduro to demand he respect the opposition-led Congress and resolve chronic food and medicine shortages that have fueled malnutrition and health problems.

Amid a steep recession and triple-digit inflation, the bolivar currency weakened past 10,000 bolivars per US dollar on the black market on Friday, having fallen more than 99 percent since Maduro came to power in April 2013.

Maduro says the 545-member assembly, which will have the power to dissolve state institutions and rewrite the constitution, will bring peace to the convulsed country.

The opposition dismisses such promises.

"If the constituent assembly is activated there will be no way out. It will be a legalised dictatorship," an 18-year-old chef, who said high inflation has rendered his monthly paycheck virtually worthless, said.

"This protest has been urgent from the beginning, but these two days before the election will be decisive."

Blow to democracy

Countries around the world have condemned the new assembly as a blow to democracy.

US Vice President Mike Pence spoke on Friday with opposition activist Leopoldo Lopez, who is under house arrest in Venezuela. Pence reiterated the White House's pledge to impose "strong and swift economic actions" if Sunday's vote goes ahead, the vice president's office said in a statement.

The United States this week sanctioned a group of ruling Socialist Party officials, and the US Embassy ordered family members of staff to leave the country.

That may have been more of an effort to pressure Maduro than to respond to the country's security situation, which has been challenging for years, said one former senior CIA official.

"It's a powerful political signal, more than a means of protecting staff," the former official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The opposition vowed to protest through the weekend, raising the specter of further violence given that the government has banned protests from Friday to Tuesday.

Adding to Venezuela's growing international isolation, Colombian airline Avianca stopped operations in the country on Thursday due to "operational and security limitations."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies