Despite a new government ban on national protests, leaders of Venezuela's political opposition are urging people to take to the streets in mass demonstrations against an election Sunday that many fear could tip their country from democracy to dictatorship.
President Nicolas Maduro ordered the controversial vote for a constituent assembly whose 545 members will be charged with rewriting the country's constitution. Critics charge that only Maduro supporters are candidates and that they could revise the charter to keep him in office indefinitely.
"Prepare to deepen the conflict, a conflict that will be hard. But we will win because they cannot crush us all," legislator Freddy Guevara, first vice president of the opposition-led parliament, said Thursday night.
The call for mass demonstrations, scheduled to start at noon local time Friday, follows two days of mass strikes — and almost four months of often-violent demonstrations. At least 102 people have died in clashes among Maduro's opponents, his backers and security forces.
Guevaro prodded Venezuelans to do more than just set up makeshift barriers using everything from lawn chairs to tree limbs and garbage. He wants to see crowds: "We have to be in the streets." The lawmaker said opposition leaders soon would present "a whole agenda of mobilization and pressure" to delegitimize what he called a "farce" of an election.
On Thursday, Interior Minister Néstor Reverol announced the ban on "public meetings and demonstrations, rallies of people and any similar act that could disrupt the normal development of the electoral process." The ban runs from Friday through Tuesday. Reverol, in a speech carried on state TV, warned that violators face punishment of five to 10 years behind bars.
At least two people were fatally shot during the 48-hour strike that began Wednesday, Venezuela's Public Ministry confirmed. Leonardo Gonzalez, 49, died of gunshot wounds during a protest Thursday in Carabobo state, about 200 kilometers west of Caracas. Also, a 16-year-old boy died Thursday after being fatally shot in the head the previous day in El Paraiso, in the western part of the Venezuelan capital.