Venezuela proceeding with controversial vote

CARACAS • Venezuela's government has brushed aside US President Donald Trump's threat of economic sanctions by saying it will go ahead with the election of a controversial body to rewrite the country's Constitution.

"Nothing and nobody can stop it. The Constituent Assembly is happening," Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada said on Tuesday. "The Venezuelan people are free and will respond united to the insolent threat made by a xenophobic and racist empire."

The sharp words came a day after Mr Trump warned of "strong and swift economic actions" against Venezuela if the July 30 election of the Constituent Assembly was held. He did not specify what those "actions" could be.

Venezuela is in the grip of an economic crisis, with food and medicine scarce and inflation at triple digits. That has fuelled public anger, feeding into an opposition campaign and protests to force President Nicolas Maduro out through early elections.

The opposition blames mismanagement by Mr Maduro, who in turn blames an economic "war" against him that he says is fomented by the right-wing opposition in cahoots with the US.

Mr Maduro has portrayed his plan to have a Constituent Assembly rewrite the Constitution as the only available path to "peace" and economic recovery.

The opposition, which controls the legislature, has resisted. A 24-hour nationwide strike has been called for today, launching what the opposition calls a "final offensive" to push Mr Maduro out of office.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2017, with the headline 'Venezuela proceeding with controversial vote'. Print Edition | Subscribe