Crisis Intensifies In Venezuela Ahead Of Controversial Vote

5 Killed in Violence during Venezuelan Opposition's General Strike against Maduro Regime

Violinist Wuilly Arteaga's attorney said Friday that a member of the Venezuelan National Guard took his violin and hit him with it while detaining him.

Opposition parties occupied the streets despite a protest ban by the government that extends through Tuesday. Likewise, Article 348 states that "The initiative for calling a National Constituent Assembly may emanate from the President of the Republic sitting with the Cabinet of Ministers (...)".

Venezuela has seen near-daily protests since April against government attempts to undermine the opposition while the country has seen widespread shortages of food, medicines and other essentials. Four months of protests against President Nicolas Maduro have, so far, claimed 113 lives.

Ramos and other opposition leaders say a new constitution proposed by Maduro is an illegal maneuver to sideline the opposition-controlled National Assembly and perpetuate chavismo - the political philosophy of Maduro's mentor, the late President Hugo Chavez.

His decision led to almost daily demonstrations by opposition supporters across the country that have led to more than 110 deaths since April.

Human rights organizers said another activist, a 23-year-old violinist famous for playing at anti-government protests, had been arrested in Caracas.

In announcing the U.S. sanctions, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said America was "standing by the Venezuelan people in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy".

The Protesters' motivation was boosted at the beginning of May when Maduro announced he would call up a constituent assembly to rewrite the country's constitution. By Wednesday, the resulting National Constituent Assembly will become one of the most powerful organs in the country, able to root out the last vestiges of democratic checks and balances in favour of what many fear will be a single-party authoritarian system.

Barquisimeto Mayor Alfredo Ramos, a vocal opponent of Maduro and the vote to elect delegates to a constitutional assembly, wasarrested in his office Friday afternoon by officers of the SEBIN police intelligence agency.

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Julio Borges, leader of Venezuela's opposition-led National Assembly legislature, phoned into the news conference to discuss the upcoming vote.

On Sunday voters will elect representatives to a special assembly that would have the power to rewrite the constitution of the South American country.

The political upheaval started in late March when the Venezuelan Supreme Court dissolved Parliament and transferred all legislative powers to itself, which is stacked with government loyalists. About a third will be drawn from groups - trade unions, farmers, fishermen and so on - with close ties to the socialist government.

He slammed threats of further sanctions from "emperor Donald Trump", and hit back at accusations that he was turning into a tyrant.

Maduro "dreams of becoming a dictator", Trump said in a statement on July 17. Of course, I was insane!

REEVES: Many believe this will mean the end of Venezuela's Congress, where the opposition has a majority.

Plenty of rural areas and working-class urban neighborhoods were bustling, however, and the strike appeared less massively supported than a one-day shutdown on July 22.

The most recent reported fatality occurred Friday when an 18-year old protester was killed in San Cristobal. Since April, authorities have rounded up almost 4,800 people, of whom 1,325 remain behind bars, the group said.

On Thursday, the US State Department authorized the voluntary departure of US government employees at the American Embassy in Caracas.

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