Two are dead after violence hit a vote organized by Venezuela’s opposition


CARACAS — At least two people were killed during violence in Venezuela on Sunday, as the political opposition held an unofficial referendum to protest President Nicolas Maduro’s plans to rewrite the constitution.

Gunmen attacked a polling station near a church in the city of Catia, just northwest of Caracas, according to Carlos Ocariz, an opposition spokesman.

“There was an incident in Catia a short while ago in which paramilitaries opened fire,” he told reporters. “There were four seriously injured and two dead.”

Local media reported that some 500 people took refuge in the church during the attack, including Catholic Cardinal Jorge Urosa. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said that the gunmen had fired on demonstrators from motorbikes.

On Twitter, he accused President Nicolas Maduro and “his corrupt leadership” of sending “their paramilitaries” to attack Catia.

Local media reported that pro-government militias, known as “colectivos,” had opened fire on the opposition supporters.

Millions of Venezuelans were being asked in Sunday’s poll to express their opposition to Maduro’s plan to convene a special assembly that will rewrite the South American nation’s constitution.

The vote was called by the opposition-controlled parliament, which hopes to send a clear signal to the socialist government through a high turnout.

The oil-rich nation is suffering its worst ever economic crisis, with an acute shortage in basic goods and the world’s highest inflation rate. More than 90 people have been killed in anti-government protests that have taken place almost daily since April.

Maduro, who has refused to step down, also has called his own vote later this month to elect the special assembly. The opposition sees his plans for constitutional change as an attempt to cement his grip on power.