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Referendum vote widens political rift in Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela — Opposition leaders said more than 7.1 million people responded to its call to vote Sunday in a symbolic rejection of President Nicolas Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution, a plan that has raised tensions in a nation suffering through widespread shortages and months of antigovernment demonstrations. Opposition leaders said that was because they were only able to arrange 2,000 polling places in a largely symbolic exercise that the government labeled as illegitimate. David Smilde, a Tulane University expert on Venezuela, said the results would probably rally the international community even more strongly against the July 30 vote Maduro has called to elect members of the assembly that will retool Venezuela’s 1999 constitution. The opposition says that vote has been structured to pack the constitutional assembly with government supporters and allow Maduro to eliminate the few remaining checks on his power, creating a Cuba-style system dominated by his socialist party. Opponents of Venezuela’s government blame it for turning one of the region’s most prosperous countries into an economic basket case with a shrinking economy, soaring inflation and widespread shortages.

Article by By Michael Weissenstein and Fabiola Sanchez (c) Page One News - Read full story here.