Venezuelans defy protest ban before assembly vote

PITTSBURGH PA- JULY 15 St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Jose Martinez advances to first in the seventh inning during an MLB game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals

Days before a referendum to elect a constituent assembly to rewrite Venezuela's constitution, leaders of the country's bishops' conference said the referendum is illegal and will only increase the suffering of the people. He noted that anyone organizing or participating in assemblies could face between five and ten years in prison, but did not specify whether this ban would continue following the election scheduled for Monday. "This power may be exercised by calling a National Constituent Assembly for the objective of transforming the State, creating a new juridical order and drawing up a new Constitution". The deaths raised to 105 the number of people killed since April 1 in clashes with security forces. The crisis has forced thousands of citizens to flee during in recent months.

Its oil exports to the USA totaled $10.2 billion in the year ending in May, according to Panjiva, a global trade research firm.

Venezuela's chief prosecutor is reporting at least 114 deaths in almost four months of protests against President Nicolas Maduro's government. White House officials are waiting for the result of the July 30 vote for representatives to the National Constituent Assembly, which will write the country's new constitution.

"Extend the barricades until tomorrow and everybody go to the streets on Sunday to demand the transformation of Venezuela", Freddy Guevara, an opposition congressman, said on Twitter.

Colombia also said on Friday it would give special visa extensions to more than 150,000 Venezuelans who have over-stayed their permits.

"If they ever got sanctions from the USA - that would be completely crippling", says Diego Ferro, co-investment officer at Greylock Capital, a US firm that owns Venezuelan debt.

"We urge the authorities to manage any protests against the Constituent Assembly in line with worldwide human rights norms and standards", she continued, calling on those opposing the election and the Assembly to do so peacefully. He did not elaborate on why he wished the opposition to adhere to a constitution he has decreed should no longer be in vigor and did not mention the failure of the year-long "dialogue" throughout 2016, which allowed Maduro to amass the power necessary for this week's vote.

The United States would follow up with further "strong and swift economic action" if the vote happens, senior USA officials have said.

Members of the National Bolivarian Guard (GNB) arrest a protester during riots in Caracas, Venezuela, 27 July 2017.

Late Thursday, the prosecutor's office released a list of 109 dead from violence related to demonstrations and street blockades across the country since the protests began.

Those moves came as a coalition of Venezuelan opposition groups organized a second national strike in a week. It called late Friday for massive marches on the day of the assembly vote.

Patrick DeHaan, a Senior Petroleum Analyst for price-tracker GasBuddy, and Phil Flynn, a Senior Market Analyst for the PRICE Futures Group in Chicago, both told United Press International that, this week a potential ban on Venezuelan oil might have unintended consequences.

A top Cuban official said his country had no intention of trying to mediate a solution to Venezuela's crisis, rejecting the idea of what he called "foreign meddling" and voicing full support for Maduro, a key ideological and economic ally of the island's government.

Maduro is aligned with the political movement of Hugo Chavez, the President from 1999 until his death in 2013.

Colombia Migration Director Christian Kruger said Friday the status will be good for up to two years and let recipients work and receive social security benefits.

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