Elections for National Constituent Assembly kicks off in Venezuela

Lucena said the election process for the National Constituent Assembly is audited by local and global entities, and that her organization will ensure and protect the Venezuelan people's right to vote, despite recent threats by the opposition to stage violent protests and prevent the election.

The opposition is boycotting Sunday's vote, contending the election has been structured to ensure Maduro's socialist party continues to dominate.

More than 100 people have died in anti-government unrest convulsing Venezuela since April, when the opposition launched protests demanding conventional elections to end almost two decades of socialist rule.

Jose Felix Pineda, a 39-year-old lawyer on a ticket to become part of a Constituent Assembly tasked with rewriting the constitution, was killed in the middle of the night in his home in the southeastern city of Ciudad Bolivar.

Ricardo Campos, the 30-year-old regional secretary of the youth opposition party Democratic Action, was shot dead, said an opposition lawmaker Henry Ramos Allup.

In the west of Caracas, national guard troops fanning out to put down any disruption to the election used armoured vehicles and fired shots to disperse protesters blocking roads.

Opposition leaders urged Venezuelans to demonstrate anyway in an event they billed as the "taking of Caracas".

After voting, Maduro told the media and the people gathered at the polling place settled by the National Electoral Council, that his vote was the first one for the peace, the independence, the sovereignty and the future peace.

Opinion polls say more than 70 percent of the country is opposed to Sunday's vote.

"In 1999, the first decrees and constitutional acts of the National Constituent Assembly were on regulating the functions of the Congress [Venezuelan bicameral parliament, reformed in 1999], because there were two collegiate bodies at the time, the Constituent Assembly and the Congress, as well as on reviewing the prosecution".

The toll is expected to climb as authorities enforce a ban on protests ahead of a polarizing vote Sunday to begin the rewriting of Venezuela's constitution.

The United States, the European Union and Latin American powers, including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, have come out against the election, saying it would destroy Venezuelan democracy.

Several foreign airlines, including Air France, Delta, Avianca and Iberia have suspended flights to the country over worries about security.

The US has ordered the families of its diplomats to leave after imposing sanctions on 13 current and former Venezuelan officials.

Maduro said the new legislature - called the Constituent Assembly - "will be the space, the power of powers, the super power that will, so to speak, recover the national spirit, find reconciliation, justice, find the truth".

The US has suggested further sanctions could follow.

Some in Maduro's administration have broken ranks with him, most prominently his attorney general.

  • Joey Payne