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U.S. Condemns Venezuela Vote As 'Sham Election'

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Yesterday's violence in Venezuela is the latest chapter in a 20-year drama. It was almost two decades ago that Hugo Chavez, a former army officer, won election with an attack on his country's elites. And he did win legitimate elections once upon a time.

After all these years of erratic, populist government, his successor, Nicolas Maduro, faces a shattered economy and fading support. Yesterday, his government held an election to choose an assembly to rewrite the constitution. NPR's Philip Reeves is on the line. Hi, Philip.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: Any doubt about the results here?

REEVES: No, there's no doubt at all about the results. The way that the election was set up ensured that this would be a body that is packed with supporters of Maduro and the ruling Socialist Party.

The area of doubt, actually, Steve, surrounds the turnout. The election council - the electoral council in Venezuela claims that 42 percent voted. That's about just over 8 million people. This is being met with derision, particularly by the opposition that says the number was closer to 2 to 3 million people.

INSKEEP: Well, let's remember, you reported to us that the opposition held its own elections some weeks ago about whether there should be a referendum at all and said no. So they've got that vote to go on, rather a constituent assembly at all and said no. What kind of response have they had to yesterday's election?

REEVES: Yeah, no, you're right, Steve. There's abundant evidence that many, many Venezuelans didn't want this body to be set up. And yesterday was a very tense and somewhat violent day. Ten people were killed around the country. That means that the numbers of dead over the last four months is over 120 in protests and unrest around Venezuela.

And there was one particularly abiding emblem of yesterday, which was a bomb that went off in a pile of trash. And some police on motorbikes were driving by, very spectacularly. And seven of the police were injured.

INSKEEP: So you have these protests, some of them violent. And you have an opposition that actually has won a lot of elections in recent years. But the rules keep changing on them in a way that keeps them out of power. What ideas are left for the opposition at this point?

REEVES: Well, they're saying they want more protests. It's difficult to know exactly where this goes. As you say, this has been going on for a long time. It's part of a battle that Maduro's had with the opposition since 2015. And the opposition won a landslide and took control of the National Assembly. Maduro's tried to marginalize it using the Supreme Court and did, in fact, marginalize that Congress and then tried to shut it down entirely really by having the Supreme Court seize its powers. And that's what kicked off the round of protests that we've been seeing almost daily in Venezuela ever since. That was four months ago.

INSKEEP: Are the security services still with the president?

REEVES: Yeah, it seems that, on the whole, they are, particularly the army. And that's, obviously, crucial. If the army splits with President Maduro, then, I think, the picture would change dramatically. There have been some evidence that there's some unhappiness within its ranks. But generally, it's still with President Maduro.

INSKEEP: OK, Philip, thanks very much.

REEVES: You're most welcome.

INSKEEP: That is NPR's Philip Reeves reporting on the situation in Venezuela, where an election to choose a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution was held yesterday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.