Violent protests rock Venezuela ahead of Sunday’s election

CARACAS – Clashes with police continued in parts of the Venezuelan capital of Caracas Saturday on the eve of a controversial election that has deepened the political crisis gripping the South American nation.

Opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro are calling for continued protests ahead of Sunday’s controversial election, a day after demonstrators clashed with national guard troops in the capital in defiance of a protest ban.

Opposition leaders have vowed unrest before the election of a “constituent national assembly” that would rewrite the constitution at Maduro’s request — a move that the leftist leader’s critics say could consolidate his power and lead to a dictatorship.

Protesters threw Molotov cocktails and troops fired rubber bullets in the air Friday afternoon in one part of the capital, Caracas, leading to dozens of arrests.

Maduro’s regime has forbidden protests through Tuesday, saying violators will face prison terms of five to 10 years. It says it has dispatched more than 370,000 troops across the country to secure preparations for Sunday’s vote.

The opposition wants to stop the election for the new assembly, which likely would favor Maduro as his opponents largely are not running. Opposition leaders have called for protesters to gather Sunday at a freeway in Caracas and main streets throughout the country.

The election comes after months of sometimes deadly protests as an economic crisis has led many to flee the country in search of easier access to food and medicine.

Maduro, who has said that rewriting the constitution is needed to restore order, told a rally earlier this week in Caracas that he has proposed talks with the opposition.

Opposition leaders have said they are willing to talk only if Sunday’s vote is postponed.