Death toll in Venezuelan protests reaches 102

AFP  Getty Images     
       Opposition demonstrators protest against President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas earlier this month

"It is prohibited throughout all national territory, all public meetings and demonstrations, gatherings and other similar acts that might disturb the electoral process", Venezuela's Minister of Interior, Justice and Peace Néstor Reverol said Thursday on state-run VTV.

The fresh sanctions were meant to dissuade Maduro from holding a controversial election, scheduled for Sunday, for a constituent assembly charged with overhauling the country's charter, Trump administration officials said.

Days before a critical vote engineered by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro - one that would all but turn him into an unmovable dictator - the Trump administration fired a warning shot across his bow, with a solid assist from Florida Sen.

The announcement makes good on a warning issued a week ago by President Donald Trump, who threatened "strong and swift economic actions" were Caracas to go ahead with Sunday's vote for a so-called constituent assembly.

The latest deaths raised to 106 the number of people killed since April 1. All of this happening, as violent clashes break out at the start of a 48-hour nationwide strike.

The Venezuela prosecutor's office said a 23-year-old man died in the mountainous state of Merida.

The protests and strikes were part of an opposition strategy to force Maduro from power through early elections.

Opposition is intensifying protests as elections for the Constituent Assembly are scheduled for Sunday.

"No one wants to keep living under Maduro's regime", tweeted Richard Blanco, a National Assembly member representing Caracas.

There has been widespread global condemnation of the ballot, and the United States on Wednesday announced sanctions against 13 current and former officials for corruption, undermining democracy, and participating in repression. Jesus Rojas and Zuleima Gonzalez were seized in central Anzoategui state after another appointee, Angel Zerpa, was arrested at the weekend, the opposition led National Assembly said.

Thirteen countries in the 35-member Organisation of American States, a regional political bloc, urged Maduro to suspend Sunday's election.

In a statement accompanying the sanctions announcement, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said further sanctions are possible after the election Maduro called.

"What the United States is doing is bringing to light corruption in the Venezuelan government", opposition lawmaker Franklin Duarte told Reuters.

But some 70% of Venezuelans oppose the Constituent Assembly, according to polling firm Datanalisis.

The political struggle has deepened fears that months of street violence could worsen.

Thousands of Venezuelans loaded with heavy bags have crossed the border into Colombia this week, fleeing the unrest.

At the same time, Maduro's administration is being squeezed by an ongoing economic crisis.

The oil export-dependent economy will shrink 12 per cent this year, after a contraction of 18 per cent last year, the International Monetary Fund said.

Inflation is projected to top 720%. This is the moment when the Venezuelan people need the strong support of the worldwide community to save their country from the mess into which their incompetent government dragged them kicking and screaming.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.

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