United States sanctions top Venezuelan officials as general strike paralyzes country

Posted July 28, 2017

In addition, penalties will apply to several members of Venezuela's national guard, police and other security services, including Interior Minister Nestor Luis Reverol Torres, who was indicted past year by the Justice Department for his alleged role in an worldwide cocaine distribution conspiracy.

President Nicolas Maduro is promoting the constitution rewrite as a means of resolving Venezuela's political standoff and economic crisis, but opposition leaders are boycotting it. It was not clear how many people had heeded the call.

Just 21 of the killings have resulted in an arrest or orders for apprehension issued, with almost half those coming against security forces.

A two-day general strike was organized by the opposition in defiance of the vote.

The Venezuelan prosecutor's office said a 23-year-old man died in western Merida state, while a 16-year-old boy died in the poor Caracas neighbourhood of Petare during clashes between security forces and young masked protesters on Wednesday. His death bears to 105 the total number of deaths since the beginning of the manifestation of anti-Maduro at the beginning of April.

Barricades made from debris littered the eastern part of the city, with signs reading "No more dictatorships!" Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has spoken with the opposition and with ruling Socialist Party officials about postponing the constituent assembly election, according to three opposition sources.

Opposition leaders won a majority of seats in Venezuela's National Assembly in midterm elections in December 2015.

But with crippling shortages of basic goods and soaring inflation, protest organizers claimed 92% of businesses and workers support the walkout.

Maduro's regime is also feeling the squeeze internationally.

The U.S. Treasury Department planned to issue a sanctions announcement later on Wednesday, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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He called the sanctions "illegal, insolent, and unprecedented".

The EU, UN and heavyweight nations in the Organization of American States have all also urged Maduro to drop his controversial plan.

"What the United States is doing is bringing to light corruption in the Venezuelan government", opposition lawmaker Franklin Duarte told Reuters.

The Venezuelan military has declared its loyalty to him.

The political struggle has deepened fears that months of street violence could worsen.

Meanwhile, thousands of Venezuelans have fled the unrest this week, crossing the border into Colombia laden with heavy bags.

The U.S. also said it had determined that Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, hit with U.S. sanctions in February, had "hundreds of millions of dollars" in assets that have been frozen due to the sanctions.

Maduro continued with the new body that would be capable of rewriting Venezuela's constitution and would supersede other institutions.

At the same time, Maduro's administration is being squeezed by the long-running economic crisis.

The oil export-dependent economy will shrink 12 per cent this year, the International Monetary Fund predicts.