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Call for millions on streets as Venezuela polls open

Opposition leaders in Venezuela have issued a rallying call for millions of protesters to take to the streets – as polls open in a controversial vote.

They are boycotting the Constituency Assembly election, claiming President Nicolas Maduro will use its result to crush dissenters and tighten his grip on power.

Polling stations are to open at 7am local time (12pm BST) and are expected to close 11 hours later.

If successful, President Maduro will essentially govern a one-party state, controlling the powerful 545-member body charged with re-writing the Venezuelan constitution.

:: Vote or lose your home: Venezuela’s ‘illegal’ election

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro
Image:Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro

The vote will mark the peak of four months of protests that have seen 110 people killed in clashes with riot police.

Opposition to President Maduro has steadily grown beyond its roots in the middle classes to include significant support from the slums in Caracas.

“This is illegal,” Juan Vieda, a man staffing a barricade in the capital, told Sky News.

Juan Vieda, a protester in Venezuela
Image:Mr Vieda called the election ‘illegal’

“They want to force us. They want to force this constitution on us and we don’t want it. This will be bad and this will be bad for them.”

President Maduro is going all out to boost turnout and increase the election’s legitimacy.

State employees, who depend on their free housing and food subsidies, have been bombarded with texts and calls telling them to vote or risk losing their lifelines.

:: Who is Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro?

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Video:What is happening in Venezuela?

Opponents hope a tiny turnout will expose the illegitimacy of the process.

But the government controls the election returns and there will be no independent oversight.

President Maduro insists the new assembly is the only way to haul Venezuela out of its economic and political crisis, but has not explained how a new constitution would do so.

“We have a card to play: a card that will win this game. And that card is the National Constituent Assembly,” he said on Friday.

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