Venezuela referendum, 2 dead, 98 percent against Maduro

ROME - Over seven million Venezuelans cast their vote on Sunday at the opposition-organised referendum, according to data collected by Venezuelan universities. The population was asked whether they approved of the realisation of a Constituent Assembly proposed by current President Nicolas Maduro without the prior approval of the Venezuelan people, as well as whether they wanted to renew public powers and take part in transparent elections. Gunmen charged into a polling station, where they killed two people and injured at least four.

 The opposition Democratic Unity coalition gained 98 percent of the votes, in their push to end two decades of socialist rule in Venezuela. According to the opposition, the gunmen were in fact a pro-government “paramilitary” gang who opened fire on people queuing to vote in the poor neighbourhood of Catia, in Caracas. Eye-witnesses took videos which show people running to a nearby church to hide. 

 The results show that Venezuela "has sent a clear message to the national executive and the world," said Venezuela's Central University Cecilia García Arocha to Italian newspaper La Repubblica. Maduro’s constituent assembly plan was strongly rejected: “With the votes of Venezuelan people, Nicolas Maduro is mathematically withdrawn today, which is why he feared the referendum, which is why the government no longer wants to make elections. We are still waiting for the final figure, which will come tomorrow, so that we can say that we are certain to achieve democratic change in the country.”

 The opposition’s win still does not override the 7,585,579 votes accumulated by Maduro in 2013 when he was elected Head of State. Constitutional Assembly elections are scheduled to be held in Venezuela on 30 July 2017. 

 During Pope Francis’ address in St Peter’s Square on Sunday, he greeted the Venezuelan Catholic community in Italy and renewed his prayers for what he called this "beloved country”. This comes after he received six cardinal bishops at the Vatican last month and they discussed the anti-government turmoil and the serious humanitarian crisis the country is facing.