United States sanctions Venezuelan officials to pressure Maduro

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A new U.S. sanctions announcement has coincided with a two-day strike and a major protest in Venezuela, Deutsche Welle reports. Millions took part in a one-day strike from last Wednesday, during which five people died in clashes. He has warned the Organization of American States not to intervene in Venezuela, saying that would surely bring on civil war.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro has lashed out against the USA government after it imposed sanctions on 13 of his regime's top officials, as the South American country's violent anti-government protests have led to more deaths.

The protest ban was issued on the second of a two-day national strike organized by the opposition in an attempt to thwart President Nicolas Maduro's plans to elect a Constituent Assembly that would have the power to rewrite the Constitution.

Venezuela's opposition, bolstered by an unofficial vote on July 16 that saw a third of the electorate reject Maduro's plan, has called for a boycott of Sunday's vote.

Facing intense foreign pressure including the threat of economic sanctions by U.S. President Donald Trump, Maduro has vowed the vote will go ahead despite "imperial" pressure.

Four more Venezuelans linked to Venezuela's state oil company or other government-run institutions were also penalized in what the Treasury Department described as an effort to crack down on corruption and Venezuela's black market.

"I will bestow a very, very special honour on this group of Venezuelans", Maduro said, calling the sanctions "shameless measures".

The president argues that a new constitution will offer the South American nation a way out of its deep political and economic crisis.

A Constituent Assembly stacked with Maduro supporters, and that would be able to override lawmakers in the National Assembly, would leave power firmly consolidated in the hands of the president's socialist party, she said.

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Government officials and candidates for the Constituent Assembly wrapped up campaigning on Thursday with a rally in Caracas with Maduro.

Three days of protests are planned leading up to Sunday's vote, starting with a 48-hour general strike that began Wednesday and culminating Friday with a demonstration billed as a "takeover of Caracas".

Lashing out against the United States, Venezuela's leader Maduro called the new U.S. sanctions against people from his regime "illegal, insolent and unprecedented", as cited by AFP.

"They try to question the humanity of the other side as a political tactic, and I think that ends up discouraging and dismaying people", said David Smilde, a Tulane University expert on Venezuela. "The government of the world?" he said.

At least 106 people have died in total during anti-government unrest convulsing the South American OPEC nation since the opposition launched protests in April demanding elections to end almost two decades of socialist rule.

"The dictatorship says we can't protest from tomorrow. So?"

With the approach of controversial elections on Sunday of a 545-seat Constituent Assembly to rewrite the constitution, the opposition and the Maduro government skirmished in the streets.

Venezuela's economy is expected to shrink by 12% in 2017, with inflation at 720%, following a contraction of 18% in 2016, according to the latest forecast from the International Monetary Fund.

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